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Kagan is No Lady Gaga of Law

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"Drab... Dowdy and dull... Frumpiness of the sort that federal Washington can't resist." These are some of the harsh observations of a Washington Post style writer about the fashion preferences of Elena Kagan, President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court.

Okay, maybe Kagan is no Lady Gaga when it comes to fashion. But for most Americans, the way Kagan, who is Obama's Solicitor General, outfits herself is just fine. She's not competing to be America's Next Top Model. What's in her mind and her heart are far more important than what's on her back, neck, or her ring finger.

So far, I like what I've learned of Kagan's mind and heart from her past writings and job experiences. In a way, they mimic her style of dress -- responsible, sensible, and utilitarian -- especially when it comes to her perspective on gun laws.elena kagan

What we know is that Kagan, as a lawyer during the Clinton Administration, wrote a 1997 memo that led to an executive order banning dozens of imported semi-automatic weapons -- similar to the types of weapons that were used recently to shoot 10 D. C. youths in a matter of seconds. Kagan's decision made sense then, and it would make sense now.

We also know that Kagan spent four years working for President Clinton as both a White House lawyer and senior domestic policy advisor. Those were the years that ultimately saw Clinton support, sign, and defend the ground-breaking and highly sensible Brady Law, which requires background checks on gun purchases made from federally licensed dealers. Over 1.8 million "prohibited purchasers" have been stopped from buying guns because of this law.

Additionally, while working for President Clinton, Kagan apparently was in the loop when the Clinton Administration fashioned reasonable steps to require child-safety trigger locks on handguns and when cities, such as Chicago, brought lawsuits against gun makers. American children - more than any other children in the developed world - have suffered inordinate amounts of injuries and death due to gun manufacturers' refusals to spend, in some cases, only a few more pennies, to make their products safer.

Meanwhile, Congress' inexcusable exemption of gun makers from consumer product safety regulations and protection from legal liability have made it nearly impossible for gun violence victims to hold gun makers responsible for the foreseeable, and preventable, tragedies caused by their lethal weapons.

We've learned, as well, that in 1987, during her tenure as a clerk with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, she drafted a memo urging that the Court not hear the appeal of a D.C. man convicted of carrying a pistol without a license, possessing an unlicensed gun, and unlawfully possessing ammunition. When Kagan noted to Marshall that she was "not sympathetic" to the man's argument that the District's firearms laws violated the Second Amendment, she was standing on solid legal ground. Until the 2008 Heller decision, Supreme Court precedent limited the "right to keep and bear arms" to service in "a well-regulated militia."

In answers to recent questions regarding the Second Amendment and Heller, Kagan has said she considers the new individual right settled law. But even now, firearms registration laws and prohibitions on carrying guns in public remain constitutional, as they do not infringe on the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to possess guns in the home for self-defense, which is the right recognized in Heller. The Court was emphatic in Heller that other strong gun regulations, including restrictions on who can buy guns and where guns are taken, are "presumptively lawful."

It has also been reported that Kagan, a Harvard-educated lawyer, who rose to become dean of Harvard Law School, left a legacy of being able to bring feuding faculty factions together to make progress on all sorts of issues.

Just weeks into her new post, Kagan exhibited her willingness to listen to a variety of perspectives on gun policy by moderating a debate hosted by the law school's target shooting club between gun-control advocates and 2nd Amendment gun rights proponents.

In the coming days, as reporters and legal scholars continue to sift through the 46,000 Kagan documents just released from the Clinton Library, we'll learn more about her take on the law. Later this month, when Senate hearings start on June 28, we'll hear her speak about her views.

In the meantime, it seems clear that, like her choice of fashion, Kagan hasn't pushed the gun law envelope to an eye-popping, jaw-dropping extreme. She appears to have a healthy respect for American judicial precedent and the recognition that reasonable limits on access to firearms can help save lives. The American public can be thankful for that. I certainly am.