Elena Kagan nominated for Supreme Court
And Paul Campos asks whether she is the next Harriet Miers?
It's a very good question. What distinction has she achieved?
As a judge -- zero. Not that I consider that a barrier; the Warren Court boasted some serious intellect, despite only one Justice having sat on a Circuit court (and Justice Black having served a year as a police court judge).
As a lawyer -- virtually none. Two years of being an associate in the big firm. I'd be rather surprised if she has ever tried a case to a jury. She may well have never tried a case, period.
As a legal academic -- Campos points out she got tenure on the basis of a single law review article that was mostly a review of others' research. In twenty or so years since, she published two short articles and two book reviews, that's it.
Heading up Harvard Law, she chiefly distinguished herself by fundraising -- hopefully not a major concern at the Supreme Court level -- and by covering up plagiarism committed by faculty members.
1) With two years of experience (decades ago), she was appointed Solicitor General and has been there for a year. Not much experience at all. The SG's job is mainly administrative. Their squads of careerist lawyers handle things. If an agency wants to take an appeal, they write up a detailed legal memo on it, and the SG's staffers say yes or no; if yes, the relevant division of Justice does the briefing and argument (except for the handful of cases that reach the Supreme Court). The SG's privilege is to argue those if he/she wants to. I've heard no reports of Kagan's skill there.
2) Law review articles... it depends on the timeframe. Back in the 80s, it could take 9 months to get one published (but there was no problem with writing another during that time, since it wasn't 9 months of work, but largely 9 months of delays). You had to type it up triple spaced for editing and mail it around; there were fewer reviews and they could be both slower and more choosey.
In recent years, it's a cinch. You submit manuscripts electronically via a service called Expresso. Upload it, designate what journals you want (out of 550+, it costs $2 each, but as a prof. your school usually has a subscription that eliminates that), and it's to them in an hour. If one bites, you can send a mass email to others asking for expedited review by the deadline for the first.
I published two articles in 2009, have two more published in 2010, and a third accepted but not yet in print ... and it's only May. (To be fair, there are a lot of profs out there with 3-4 articles. I'm told three over six years is enough to get tenure, and some seem to stop right there).
The other thing about her publication list is it includes several book reviews, which are generally treated as "if you don't have time for a real article, whip out a book review." Also at least one publication at the review of a school where she taught, which again is "if you can't place it elsewhere..." The reviews are student-run, so a prof is usually loathe to have his/her own students evaluating the piece, it smacks a little of undue influence.