Elena Kagan and Jeffrey Rosen

03Nov16

The Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville had a big week last month. Every year or so, the law school awards the Brandeis Medal to individuals whose lives and work demonstrate a commitment to “the ideals of individual liberty, concern for the disadvantaged and public service.” This year’s recipient was Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. Justice Kagan was supposed to come to the law school on September 15 to pick up the award, but she had to postpone her visit for health reasons, (we had a party that night anyway,) and she ended arriving over a month later, on October 24. A luncheon was held in her honor in a suite in UofL’s football stadium that was attended by about 300 professors, students and local lawyers. Normally the medal recipients give a speech, but this year Justice Kagan sat on the stage and answered questions from Brandeis Law School professors Justin Walker (who studied under Kagan at Harvard) and Laura Rothstein. The resulting discussion was light on law and veered more towards the personal. My favorite anecdote involved the confirmation process. While she was making the rounds of the Senate while waiting to be confirmed, one Western senator challenged her on gun control. While admitting she had never fired a gun, Kagan stated that she had always been curious about them and more or less invited herself to a hunting trip on the Senator’s ranch. When the flustered Senator seemed disinclined to accept the invitation, she quickly proposed an alternative: as soon as she got on the bench, she said would ask Scalia to take her hunting with him. Scalia later delightedly agreed, which led to regular hunting trips for the two of them.

After the talk, Justice Kagan was presented with the medal and a pair of Muhammed Ali boxing gloves. She then returned to the law school, where she had a Q&A with the students and then took a tour of the Brandeis papers before flying back to DC that afternoon.

On that same night, the Filson Club hosted a speech by Jeffrey Rosen who was in town to promote his new book Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet. Rosen’s spoke to a crowd that looked it was slightly larger than the one for Kagan earlier that day, and his enthusiasm for Brandeis was so infectious that when he urged them to read Brandeis’s opinions in Olmstead and Whitney when they got home, I really believed that half of them were going to do it. Rosen came to the law school the next day where I subjected him to a 90 minute tour of the Brandeis archive. Whereas Justice Kagan showed polite interest in the tour, Rosen showed the same amount of enthusiasm as he did during his speech, as I pulled out all of the highlights from the collection: Brandeis’s copy of the Muller v. Oregon brief, his grade school reading primer, a first edition of Other People’s Money with clipped newspaper articles pasted in, his Supreme Court resignation letter, etc. He was even gracious enough to let me take a picture of him reading Frederick Douglass’s letter to John Marshall Harlan.

Jeffrey Rosen reading a letter to John Marshall Harlan from Frederick Douglass, while visiting the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law Library.

 

During the week before, the Supreme Court Historical Society and the law school co-sponsored an event celebrating the centennial of Brandeis’s ascension to the Supreme Court. The night featured a speech by Mel Urofsky, which was followed by a recognition of past Brandeis Medal recipients. Attendees included Laura Rothstein, Brandeis Medal recipients Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Bight, and Sam Dash’s daughter. The event was recorded and will be broadcast on C-Span 3 at 4:55 pm on November 5.

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