My Last Day: Hearing Junior Justice Kagan (Quinn Rowan)

| Quinn Rowan | 09 August 2012 | New York, United States |

On my final day at the Court of International Trade, we ate pork dumplings.  The new junior clerks, relieved to have weathered the bar exam, walked us dutifully through Chinatown in the blazing heat until we arrived at the famous Joe’s Shangai Restaurant. Amidst bamboo steamers, noodle dishes and kung pao chicken, my co-intern and I Implored the clerks for advice about how to succeed during our upcoming 2L year. Their responses – “Don’t give up,” and “Push through” were both encouraging and indicative of our busy year ahead.

After many dumplings, we returned back to the Court of International Trade. Although it was rumored that Justice Elena Kagan would be speaking in the Southern District Courthouses, I was surprised to learn that she was also speaking at the Court of International Trade almost minutes after we returned from lunch.  We entered the second floor of the Court’s ceremonial courtroom and stood quietly against the door. The vertical wood paneling, aerodynamic eagle sculpture and over-sized leather office chairs added elements of grandeur and foreboding to the court’s visible motto: “Equal Justice Under Law.”
Justice Kagan was surprisingly charming and humble.  She immediately opened up the floor and happily responded to questions, ranging from televised Supreme Court hearings to the unexpected success of the Nationals (DC’s baseball team). Her words were both calculated and genuine – she refused to lament the state of legal education in the United States, saying rather that she felt privileged to witness such expert lawyering in the Supreme Court chambers. When answering questions about decision trends in the Supreme Court, she immediately became deferential – as a “junior” justice, she spoke to her experience serving on the Court for the last two years and she emphasized that she had not previously worked as a judge.

To hear Justice Kagan refer to herself as a “junior” Justice, while accurate, also came as a relief.  Justice Kagan, previously Solicitor General, inferred that her newbie status often awarded her complex, arcane opinions. She also mentioned some of her mundane day-to-day tasks, such as: taking notes, answering the chamber door, and thinking of new and exciting ways to improve the Court’s cafeteria.

However, beneath Justice Kagan’s witty commentary was a true appreciation for her colleagues and their collaborative work.  Standing in the Court of International Trade, listening to a well-spoken, funny female Justice gave me hope for my legal future and what will happen in the years to come.

Over and out.


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