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Elena Kagan Takes Stand on Supreme Court Ethics

Elana Kagan

Justice Elana Kagan (Wikipedia)

U.S. Supreme Court justice Elena Kagan says that the U.S. Congress does have the authority to regulate the court and pass laws on what its members may or may not do when it comes to matters of ethics, much in the same way that it has passed laws regulating the conduct of members of the executive branch of government, including the President himself. This is in chagrin to some of her fellow Supreme Court Justices.

The issue of what constitutes unethical behavior on the part of Supreme Court justices has been a hot topic lately, ever since the revelations that its longest serving member, Clarence Thomas, has accepted millions in gifts over the years from Republican political donors.

Recently, at a judicial conference in Portland, Elena Kagan stated, “Of course Congress can regulate various aspects of what the Supreme Court does. It just can’t be that the court is the only institution that somehow is not subject to any checks and balances from anybody else. I mean, we are not imperial.”

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In support of her position, Justice Kagan cited the fact that Congress has the authority to increase, or decrease, the size of the court – the U.S. Supreme Court currently has nine members but this has not always been the case – and it can also pass legislation limiting the court’s jurisdiction.

On the matter of a code of conduct for Supreme Court justices Elena Kagan believes the court could take action itself saying,“We could decide to adopt a code of conduct of our own that either follows or decides in certain instances not to follow the standard codes of conduct.”

On that point, Chief Justice John Roberts agrees, but feels the Congress does not have any such authority over the court.

“I want to assure people that I am committed to making certain that we as a court adhere to the highest standards of conduct,” Justice Roberts commented. “We are continuing to look at things we can do to give practical effect to that commitment, and I am confident that there are ways to do that consistent with our status as an independent branch of government and the Constitution’s separation of powers.”

According to her official bio, Elena Kagan, was born in New York, New York, on April 28, 1960. She received an A.B. from Princeton in 1981, an M. Phil. from Oxford in 1983, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1986. She clerked for Judge Abner Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit from 1986-1987 and for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court during the 1987 Term.

After briefly practicing law at a Washington, D.C. law firm, Elena Kagan became a law professor, first at the University of Chicago Law School and later at Harvard Law School. She also served for four years in the Clinton Administration, as Associate Counsel to the President and then as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy. Between 2003 and 2009, she served as the Dean of Harvard Law School. In 2009, President Obama nominated her as the Solicitor General of the United States. A year later, the President nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on May 10, 2010. She took her seat on August 7, 2010.



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