Neither one had judicial experience before being nominated to the Supreme Court.
William Rehnquist was nominated to the court (and then became Chief Justice) after serving as a lawyer in the Richard Nixon administration. Elena Kagan was nominated after serving as a lawyer in the Bill Clinton administration, and as Solicitor General under Barack Obama.
I personally would prefer that all Supreme Court justices have expansive judicial experience. (And how about a few who didn’t go to Harvard or Yale?) But Elena Kagan’s nomination is one day old and I’m already weary of right wing pundits claiming that her lack of judicial experience disqualifies her as a nominee. It doesn’t.
Just ask these 40 guys.
Or ask Clarence Thomas, who had a whopping one year as a judge before being hustled onto the Court in 1991. Granted, Thomas is the best available argument for requiring more judicial experience, not less. He’s the guy, after all, who once said that “One thing I’ve demonstrated often in 16 years is you can do this job without asking a single question.” If that’s not the single dumbest remark a justice has made in my lifetime, it’s certainly in the top 10. If your local traffic court judge said those words, you’d think he was doing a terrible job.
So don’t tell me that Thomas’s one year on the bench magically qualifies him and Elena Kagan’s zero years magically disqualifies her. Kagan may or may not be fit for the job, but lack of judicial experience ain’t the reason.