Justice Kagan?

Christine Whelan | Posted on 05/10/10

We may be the only couple on the planet to regularly quote presumptive Justice Kagan in our marital disputes: Notice is at the heart of fairness.

News outlets are abuzz over President Obama's nomination today of Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 50, to the U.S. Supreme Court. I'll leave it to them to cover the politics and the facts (and share their own personal stories) but my husband and I have a small claim to SCOTUS fame, too: We may be the only couple on the planet to regularly quote presumptive Justice Kagan in our marital disputes.

My husband was a student of Prof. Kagan's at Harvard Law School. In one of her lectures, she quipped that "notice is at the heart of fairness," meaning that before you evict someone or take action of most sorts, you should alert them in advance.

This works in marriages, too: "Notice is at the heart of fairness" is a helpful addition to a personal spat, regardless of what side of the argument you're on. (For example: "I emailed you saying I was going to be late. Notice is at the heart of fairness... What? It's not my fault you didn't check your email...")

Solicitor General Kagan and I have a few other connections as well: We both served as editors of The Daily Princetonian. She and I are both Sachs Scholars, a scholarship that sent us to Worcester College at the University of Oxford after Princeton. And in 2004, when I only knew her by those distinctions, she and I sat on a small Princeton committee. During the day of deliberations, we debated some small point. While I gave it my best, I was no match.

That evening, as I reviewed the day in my personal journal, I wrote that I'd better brush up on my intellectual sparring abilities: This woman was a former editor of the ‘Prince' and a Sachs Scholar, but so was I. I should have been able to win the debate, I reasoned. I mean, who was this Elena Kagan woman anyway?

When I learned she'd become the Dean of Harvard Law School, I laughed at my ignorance. I chuckled harder still when she was nominator to be Solicitor General. I'll now proudly go on record as saying I had no chance of winning any argument with her, ever. Had I done a bit of research about her, I would have known that from the start: Notice is at the heart of fairness.

So while I can't expect to win a debate with a soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice, I can tell you that if you need some help winning arguments in your household, borrow that line from Elena Kagan's old Harvard Law School lectures:

Notice is at the heart of fairness.

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