Supreme Court Nominee Kagan’s Daily Princetonian Past

She is a liberal, with a conciliatory attitude toward conservatives.  She is the current U.S. solicitor general.  She is a former Harvard Law School dean.  She has never been a judge, although not for lack of trying.  And her nickname, Shorty, matches her stature. For all the facts we suddenly know about Elena Kagan, President Obama’s newest nominee to the Supreme Court, here is one not in the ledes of most profiles: She was once beholden to the Prince.

Like many successful individuals who have shaped or are shaping America, including Obama, Kagan was once a student journalist.  The means through which she channeled her undergraduate journalistic urges: The Daily Princetonian, the campus newspaper at Princeton University.

Prior to graduating in 1981, Kagan served as a Princetonian news writer and later as editorial chairman.  In a terrific piece by Ameena Schelling published in the newspaper last week, former student staffers and faculty mentors recall Kagan as an idealist (she famously wept on Election Night 1980 when her favored Senate candidate lost) and a newsibody (confined incessantly like most Princetonian eds. to the paper’s newsroom).

Kagan, on the phone, during her Princetonian days

As editorial chairman, Kagan “was responsible for the opinion content of the paper and the unsigned editorials that appeared almost daily— many of which took decidedly liberal stances on national and campus issues. . . . One set of unsigned editorials published in the spring of 1980, written in response to the federal government’s discussion of reinstating draft registration, attacked the militaristic identity the country was headed toward.”

Separately, it seems her passion for life and intellectual extraordinariness had already begun to shine while at university— along with her relative shyness about expressing her political beliefs.  “Because of her affiliation with the ‘Prince,’ Kagan was prohibited from participating in any obvious political displays,” one portion of the article confirms.  As a former Princetonian colleague similarly recalls, “I don’t remember her participating in marching, protesting, things like that.  I would probably describe her back then— her politics— as progressive and thoughtful but well within the mainstream of the . . . sort of liberal, democratic, progressive tradition, and everything with lower case.”

To mark her final day on the newspaper staff, Kagan co-wrote “The Last Goodbye,” an editorial sign-off that ended with the following:

People don’t edit the ‘Prince’ because of the personal recognition that goes with the job; there isn’t any. And people don’t do it because they believe in the Right of the People to Know; noble ideals die quickly in a newsroom atmosphere. The camaraderie of the newsroom? You only mention that on law school applications. So why bother? Well, as reluctant as we are to admit it, we’ve taken a certain pride in putting out this page over the past year. And we’d like to think that at least a few of you out there were reading.

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