U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan offered some pointed advice for a packed house September 23 at Zellerbach Hall: Embrace risk and potential disappointment.
“Law students are often too risk-averse; there’s too much planning and too little jumping in,” she said during an engaging interview with Dean Erwin Chemerinsky. “You should experiment … One of the virtues of coming to a place like Berkeley Law is that there are so many opportunities.”
Kagan described losing out on a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judgeship, and being passed over for the Supreme Court in 2009 after Justice David Souter’s retirement.
“People look at a résumé like mine and think, ‘Ooh, what a golden life,’ Kagan said. “They’re not seeing the jobs I didn’t get, that plenty of times I wasn’t sure what to do next.”
Earlier in the day, she held a Q&A session with students, met with Chemerinsky, lunched with Berkeley Law’s faculty, and helped teach Professor Amanda Tyler’s Public Law and Policy Workshop class.
“It was an incredible experience,” 3L Christina Crowley says. “She seamlessly slipped back into her previous role as a law professor … to create an open and relaxed environment.”
Amid portrayals of a divided court reflecting an increasingly polarized nation, Kagan noted that cases in which the court seems very politicized “are a small minority of our docket … What you find much more is (justices) who did unexpected things in cases that came out in unexpected ways—odd bedfellows, if you will.”
Citing genuine mutual respect among the justices, she said, “I find it perplexing that you can’t like someone you disagree with, even on important matters. I like all my colleagues and feel close to many of them.”