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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan discusses how the court can preserve democracy in talk at Notre Dame

Elena Kagan
WVPE, Marek Mazurek
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, left, talks with Marcus Cole, the dean of Notre Dame's law school during a talk on campus at the Debartolo Performing Arts Center on Sept. 22, 2023.

Elena Kagan’s conservative colleagues on the Supreme Court have made headlines recently with the controversial decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the uncovering of Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas’ donor–funded lifestyles.

During her visit to Notre Dame on Friday, however, Kagan kept her criticisms of her colleagues to their judicial opinions, challenging ideas of originalism and criticizing some recent opinions.

When asked by Marcus Cole, the dean of the university’s law school, if the supreme court should establish a code of ethics, Kagan said it should, but added there are reasons it will take a while to hammer out.

“There are complicated issues here. There are totally good faith disagreements or concerns if you will,” Kagan said. “There are things to be worked out. I hope we get them worked out.”

During her talk, which is part of Notre Dame’s future of Democracy series, Kagan also touched on her view of originalism, saying she considers herself an originalist because the framers of the constitution meant for the document to change dramatically over time.

“These people were speaking for the ages and they knew it,” Kagan said. “If there was anybody who understood how the world changes, it was those people. How societies change, how governments change, how people change. They had brought on a revolution.”

Kagan added that the original intent of the 14th amendment, passed in 1868 to guarantee equal protection under the law for all citizens was not to give women any more rights than they had at the time.

Kagan also spoke about her dissenting opinions in a few recent cases that dealt with voting rights and gerrymandering.

Justice Kagan said she strongly disagreed with the majority ruling the supreme court shouldn’t get involved in gerrymandering issues, but then inserting itself into the politics-driven waters to overturn the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan.

“The one place the court has the most responsibility is to protect the mechanisms of democracy itself,” she said.

Kagan is the latest of multiple Supreme Court justices visiting Notre Dame in recent years. In 2021, Thomas andAlitospoke at Notre Dame and in 2022, Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh both spoke on campus as well.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.