By Hazel Trice Edney, NNPA Editor-in-Chief –
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The NAACP unanimously endorsed Elena Kagan, President Barak Obama’s choice for the U. S. Supreme Court, at its quarterly board meeting over the weekend, according to a statement released Saturday.
“After a careful and thorough review of Elena Kagan’s record, we have unanimously voted to endorse her nomination,” stated President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “Elena Kagan has demonstrated a commitment to civil rights and equal justice under the law throughout her career. Kagan drew her inspiration from NAACP former counsel and Supreme court Justice Thurgood Marshall who she considers a hero and mentor. During her tenure at the White House, Kagan worked on issues such as strengthening hate crimes legislation and civil rights enforcement. As a law school Dean, she worked to ensure a diverse student body and faculty. And as Solicitor General, Kagan has vigorously defended the nation’s equal opportunity and civil rights laws. We look forward to actively supporting her nomination,” Jealous said in the statement.
NAACP Chair Roslyn Brock says in the statement that Kagan is a unifier.
“Elena Kagan has a track record of bringing people together. She is skilled at forging legal consensus on contentious issues,” Brock states. “Civil rights is a bipartisan issue. It is central to the core of our American values. We believe Elena Kagan has the ability to use her fine legal mind, her commitment to diversity and her ability to build bridges to effectively advocate in the Court for the civil rights and democracy enshrined in our constitution.”
The NAACP, with its reputation as the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the country, will no doubt influence the perception of Kagan by some in the Black community who are observing various perspectives from credible Black organizations. Kagan’s civil rights credentials have been intensely questioned by high-profiled organizations. This includes the National Bar Association, which has withheld judgment on her candidacy until her record is more closely scrutinized.
"The National Bar Association, having put forth a very qualified candidate for consideration, was a bit surprised by the choice. I think that has as much to do with the process as the nominee. As the largest association of predominately African-American lawyers and judges, we have a vested interest in our judiciary. We hope to support the president with this nomination and want to know more about the nominee's sensitivity to issues of race, gender, class discrimination and to affording equal opportunity to all segments of our society," said NBA President Mavis T. Thompson in a statement.
"Hence, our standard examines not only the professional qualifications of judicial nominees" said Thompson, "but also scrutinizes whether the proposed jurist has the ability to judge fairly, to conduct matters with judicial temperance, and to advance and seek equal justice under the law. Moreover, our standard is vital to ensuring that groups that have been historically marginalized by the legal system obtain the American mandate of equal justice under law."
The NBA, which represents 44,000 lawyers, judges, law professors and law students in 80 affiliate chapters in the U. S. and around the world, had recommended that the president appoint a Black female to the court. In a letter, the organization had asked the president to consider Ann Claire Williams, the first African-American ever appointed to the Seventh Circuit and the third African-American woman ever to serve on any United States Court of Appeals.
The Black Women’s Roundtable, headed by Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, had also asked Obama to appoint a Black female to the court. In a letter, Campbell and 27 women also expressed concern that Kagan’s civil rights record is not well established; therefore her appointment is risky for African-American progress.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, says the LCCR is awaiting decisions from more of its more than 200 organizational members before it announces a formal endorsement. However, he added in an interview, “Right now it is pretty clear that major organizations like the NAACP are making their decisions and in the case of the NAACP, obviously their decision carries a lot of weight and influence.”
John Payton, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund has issued a statement calling for the expeditious scrutiny of Kagan by the U. S. Senate. LDF praises her candidacy on one hand, but on the other hand awaits more information on her civil rights record:
“As Solicitor General, Ms. Kagan has an exemplary record on most issues important to us. At the same time, we are interested in learning more about her entire civil rights record. We look forward to reviewing this record, as we do with each Supreme Court nomination.”
NAACP board members say they made their decision based on the Kagan records that they have been able to research.
“The organization reviewed Kagan’s available record on civil rights including her recent authorization for the Department of Justice and the Department of Civil Rights to file an amicus brief supporting the constitutionality of the University of Texas’ affirmative action program in Fisher v. University of Texas and her brief in support of African American firefighters who challenged a hiring test used by the City of Chicago under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Lewis v. City of Chicago),” the press release stated.
“Kagan has a keen understanding of the importance of diversity to the strength and advancement of our nation,” added Jealous. “It is no accident that during her tenure as dean of the Harvard Law School, the percentage of African American students rose from 9.3 percent to 11.6 percent. The percentage of Hispanics in the entering class was 6.4 percent, while it had been 4.6 percent prior to her becoming dean. The number of African American students admitted, particularly Black men - given the national decline in African American males in colleges and universities-- is impressive Her record demonstrates a legal scholar who clearly values the precept of equal opportunity as a right that is protected by our constitution.”
Still, the argument remains that one of the nation’s most powerful institutions has no Black female voice.
“The NBA viewed the court's vacant seat as an opportunity to further diversify the high court and to make it more reflective of the nation it serves,” states Thompson. “The NBA will remain actively engaged in the Supreme Court confirmation process. Further, we will continue to work with the White House to expand the pool of qualified candidates to serve on the nation's highest court.”