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John Roberts and the case of the missing Marxist essay

Via Matthew Yglesias, here's a flashback to the early weeks of John Roberts' nomination to the Supreme Court. The Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti wrote, in 2005:

Roberts entered Harvard with sophomore standing; his first year, he won the William Scott Ferguson award--given annually to the sophomore history major who writes an "outstanding essay" as part of a class assignment. To win a second-year award in your first year is no small thing. Roberts's essay was entitled "Marxism and Bolshevism: Theory and Practice." Unfortunately, no public copy of it seems to exist. Maybe Sen. Schumer will subpoena it from the nominee's private papers.

My emphasis, especially on Continetti's obvious sarcasm that an essay about Marxism would only be of interest to Democrats overzealously looking for ways to smear Roberts. Four years later, the magazine's Michael Goldfarb obtained a copy of Elena Kagan's thesis, "To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933." Goldfarb's reaction to this was less muted that Continetti's reaction to Roberts.

Obviously, one imagines that Kagan's views have evolved significantly over the last three decades, but given Obama's stated aversion to radicalism, it's certainly worth noting the radical roots of the nation's top lawyer. In her acknowledgments, Kagan writes:

Now, of course, has circulated Kagan's thesis, been asked to take it down, and made sure that her twentysomething analysis of New York socialists become part of the conversation. (Goldfarb, who didn't post the essay online, had a much more tongue-in-cheek take.)

I don't think this issue has legs -- clearly, as most of us expected, the "Kagan banned the military from Harvard" line is the one conservatives have loaded their cannons with. But the path from Roberts to Kagan is littered with amusing little double standards.

By David Weigel  |  May 17, 2010; 8:54 AM ET
Categories:  Supreme Court  
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