Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Kathleen Sullivan Would Be a Great Justice

Stanford Law professor Kathleen Sullivan has apparently made the short list to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

Some conservatives are complaining that she should be disqualified because she failed the California bar exam the first time she took it.

Kathleen Sullivan taught me (and Michelle Obama) criminal law at Harvard Law School. It was her first year on the faculty, as I recall. She was a terrific teacher. All Harvard Law professors are bright but not all of them are human. Sullivan is human. She actually cared about her students and wanted us to succeed as lawyers and as people.

Now, this is not to say that I accept the Obama view that judges must be empathetic. Rather, I refuse to see this woman unfairly characterized as unqualified. That she failed the hardest bar exam in the country just shows that she didn't prepare adequately: she needed a lesson in humility when she was younger (who doesn't?).

Anyone who has ever met Sullivan can see in short order that she is highly intelligent. There can be no serious suggestion (as there was with Harriet Myers) that she lacks the intellectual firepower to survive on the Court.

Unlike many members of the Harvard Law faculty at the time, Sullivan was open to divergent points of view -- that is, she didn't shut down conservatives just because she might not agree with us. In fact, Sullivan's teaching method did not particularly disclose much about her politics (though she was a Larry Tribe protege, so we assumed that she was liberal). I do not think she would legislate from the bench; I expect that she'd apply law to facts as impartially as humanly possible.

Sullivan's sexuality neither qualifies her for the Court nor disqualifies her. It is irrelevant.

I probably won't like many of her votes, if she is nominated and confirmed. But conservatives need to remember: our team lost. The best we can hope for is someone who is smart, ethical, fair and has the humiltiy to recognize that the Supreme Court is not a super-legislature for imposing one's personal agenda. Sullivan is all that and more.

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