Environmental Groups Smile on Kagan's Ascension to Supreme Court
WASHINGTON, DC, August 6, 2010 (ENS) - Dozens of environmental and conservation groups were pleased Thursday as Solicitor General Elena Kagan won confirmation as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice on a Senate vote of 63-37, largely along party lines.

A letter signed by 45 groups and sent to the senators on Tuesday says, "Kagan is extremely well qualified to serve on the Supreme Court and we endorse her nomination without qualification."

The groups that signed the letter include some of the country's largest and most influential organizations such as the League of Conservation Voters, Earthjustice, the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Audubon, the National Hispanic Environmental Council and Greenpeace USA. Regional conservation groups are also represented.

At a White House reception, President Barack Obama applauds the confirmation of Elena Kagan, right, as the newest Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. August 6, 2010. (Photo courtesy The White House)

"The Court is narrowly and deeply split on critical constitutional and statutory environmental protection issues," the groups warned in their letter. They are not relying on Kagan to uphold their interests in all cases, but they do respect her fairness and insight into environmental issues.

In their letter the groups wrote, "Kagan's record and her Supreme Court confirmation hearing testimony demonstrate an essential understanding of the importance of fair Court decisions that uphold, enforce and correctly interpret laws that protect people, wildlife, and the environment."

Four of the present Supreme Court Justices are often skeptical of environmental issues: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

The other four: Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, Anthony Kennedy, and Stephen Breyer can be less skeptical.

Kagan will replace Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired in June at 90 years of age. In his decisions, Stevens upheld the power of governments to regulate pollutants and of access to courts by environmental plaintiffs.

In the landmark 2006 case Massachusetts v EPA, Justice Stevens rejected the Bush administration's position on climate change and ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make a finding under the Clean Air Act on whether greenhouse gases endanger American public health and welfare.

"Ultimately," the environmental groups wrote in their letter to the Senate, "the Supreme Court decides the fate of lawsuits that attack safeguards for clean air, clean water, endangered species, and special natural places."

"For example," they wrote, "Americans depend upon fair Justices to uphold anti-pollution and conservation laws against unjustifiable claims that their enactment exceeded Congress' Commerce Clause authority, and that these and other laws take away non-existent 'property rights' to pollute."

"Kagan's answers to questions at her Supreme Court confirmation hearing recognized the broad scope of congressional Commerce Clause authority (which is the basis for most federal environmental laws) and the importance of Court precedents that defer to Congress in this area," wrote the groups.

In their letter, the groups said they support Kagan's approach to the Supreme Court's task of clarifying ambiguous laws, quoting her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kagan told the lawmakers, "One ... good and appropriate approach is to look to the purposes of the statute and to try to figure out which interpretation of the statute is more consistent with that congressional purpose. And one way to do that is to say, well, what would that interpretation of the statute actually do in the world and is that consistent with what Congress thought ought to be done?"

Today, President Barack Obama held a celebratory reception for Kagan attended by several Supreme Court Justices, members of Congress and members of Kagan's family.

The President said, "We are very honored to be joined today by two of Elena's new colleagues - Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Anthony Kennedy -and we're thankful for their presence. (Applause.) Justice Kennedy assured me that he would keep Justice Kagan out of trouble, and Justice Ginsburg assured me that she would get Justice Kagan into trouble. (Laughter.) So we'll see how that works out."

President Obama said Kagan has strong bipartisan support and would carry out work in her new position "with integrity, with humanity, and an abiding commitment to the ideal inscribed above our courthouse doors: equal justice under the law."

Kagan told the assembled guests, "Tomorrow, I will take two oaths to uphold this solemn obligation: one, to support and defend the Constitution; and the other, to administer justice without respect to persons, to the rich and poor alike."

"Today, Mr. President, I will simply say to you and to everyone here and across the nation that I will work my hardest and try my best to fulfill these commitments and to serve this country I love as well as I am able."

President Obama's choice for Solicitor General of the United States, Kagan was confirmed in that post in March 2009.

Prior to her confirmation, Kagan was the Charles Hamilton Houston Professor of Law and in 2003 she became the 11th Dean of Harvard Law School and the first woman to hold that position.

As dean, Kagan made environmental law a top priority at Harvard. She helped found the Environmental Law Program and started the Harvard Law School Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, which she called "the heart of our environmental program."

Writing in the summer 2008 Harvard Law Bulletin, Kagan said, "...this program is fast becoming an international leader in showing how law schools (and lawyers) can actively shape a field that will in many ways determine the world's future."

From 1995 to 1999 during the Clinton administration, Kagan served in the White House, first as associate counsel to the President (1995-96) and then as deputy assistant to the President for domestic policy and deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council (1997-99).

Kagan launched her academic career at the University of Chicago Law School, where she became an assistant professor in 1991 and a tenured professor of law in 1995.

Kagan clerked for Judge Abner Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit from 1986 to 1987. The next year, she clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the United States Supreme Court. She worked as an associate in the Washington, DC law firm of Williams & Connolly from 1989 to 1991.

Kagan was born and raised in New York City. She attended Princeton, Oxford, and Harvard Law School. Kagan has never married, and she has no children.

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