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Elena Kagan: "radical" socialist at Princeton

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Elena Kagan ’81 got drunk on election night in 1980. Standing in the Brooklyn Academy of Music with her vodka and tonic, she watched Walter Cronkite usher in the news that Democratic candidate Elizabeth Holtzman had lost the race for one of New York’s Senate seats. And then she sat down and wept.


A history major, Kagan had a strong interest in political history — especially labor movements and radical politics — and was passionately committed to her studies.


Under Wilentz’s direction, Kagan spent her senior year conducting research for her thesis on the history of the socialist movement, which was titled “To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900–1933.” Her thesis has been criticized by her opponents for revealing sympathies with the Socialist Party and became a source of controversy when she was a potential nominee for Associate Justice David Souter’s seat on the Supreme Court last spring — a position which instead went to Sonia Sotomayor ’76 — and when she was nominated for her current position of solicitor general in January 2009.

“Americans are more likely to speak of a golden past than of a golden future, of capitalism’s glories than of socialism’s greatness,” she wrote in her thesis. “Conformity overrides dissent; the desire to conserve has overwhelmed the urge to alter. Such a state of affairs cries out for explanation.”

She called the story of the socialist movement’s demise “a sad but also a chastening one for those who, more than half a century after socialism’s decline, still wish to change America ... In unity lies their only hope.”

Oh but I'm not really a socialist, she says. Studying the movement just aiding in "clarifying my own political ideas." We are reassured, she is "well within the mainstream of the ... sort of liberal, democratic, progressive tradition..."

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Okay, try this one then:


As an illustration why, consider this quote dug up by the First Amendment Center's David L. Hudson, who found it in a government brief signed by Kagan in United States v Stevens: “Whether a given category of speech enjoys First Amendment protection depends upon a categorical balancing of the value of the speech against its societal costs.”


In a 1996 paper, "Private Speech, Public Purpose: The Role of Governmental Motive in First Amendment Doctrine," Kagan argued it may be proper to suppress speech because it is offensive to society or to the government.

That paper asserted First Amendment doctrine is comprised of "motives and … actions infested with them" and she goes so far as to claim that "First Amendment law is best understood and most readily explained as a kind of motive-hunting."

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  • 1 month later...


Did you get it?

I am not sure where Princeton's "rights" are in this. I never heard of a student assigning copyrights to their college for their work. If the copyright belongs to anyone, it belongs to Elena Kagan, though, in fact, she wrote it in 1981 before the USA joined the Berne Convention. It is possible that under the law of that time, if she did not specifically file a copyright, then there is none.

Anyway... It is nice to see that people actually have read her works. On other sites, they just condemn her by reflex. It is true, moreover, that in her "Private Speech Public Purpose Paper" she said that speech (writing, etc.) which serves only an individual purpose is merely "masturbatory" and "low value" and not worthy of protection. But that only underscores what has been clear from the start about her political views and in that, she is not alone. Some Objectivists point to Justice Scalia as an "originalist" but in fact, it is Alito who is the "libertarian." Moreover, Scalia peppered some decisions with allusions from international law, which other consevatives found curious if not distressing. And if you look at Kelo v. New London, you can see that being nominated by a Republican was no guarantee that the justice would support the right to property. All of which is to say that howevermuch you might not like her, Elena Kagan is no less qualified than anyone else serving on the Supreme Court.

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