Friday, May 28, 2010

Kagan '81: Fashion choices

Since Elena Kagan’s career in academic administration and government office has given her far fewer opportunities than the federal judges typically tapped for Supreme Court vacancies to amass a paper trail for pundits to dissect, the items that have emerged have been subject to particularly intense scrutiny. Recently, the journalistic eye of the Washington Post has turned its gaze to the fashion choices she made during her recent visits to senators in the run-up to her confirmation hearings.

Fashion columnist Robin Givhan '86 attempts to draw inferences about Kagan’s character from the details of her sartorial choices before suggesting that those inferences are likely unreliable, conceding in column’s final paragraphs that “ultimately, of course, on matters so personal, only the individual's speaking up can truly make things clear.” Givhan seems especially fascinated by the arrangement of Kagan’s legs, spending two paragraphs on how Kagan not only refrains from crossing them above the knee but even “does not cross her legs at the ankles either, the way so many older women do.” Ultimately, of course, Givens finds a way to mention everybody’s favorite unsubstantiated rumor about Kagan, suggesting that “folks” (a category in which she seems not to include herself) “are using fashion as a limited tool for making sense of her sexual orientation.”

It would be nice if coverage of a Supreme Court nominee focused more on her potential service on the Court—after all, nobody will be able to see if Kagan’s legs are or are not crossed when she is sitting behind the bench. Given the trend over the past two decades for Supreme Court hearings to be an exercise in delivering eloquently meaningless pronouncements, however—a confirmation strategy that Kagan herself, ironically, criticized during the 90’s—it is unfortunately unlikely that we will soon see an end to the creative interpretation of female lawyers’ decision to keep “both feet planted firmly on the ground.”

by Jonathan Sarnoff