Fundraising is an essential duty of any law school dean. While at the helm of Harvard Law School, Kagan’s “Setting the Standard” fundraising program set records – not just for Harvard but for all schools. Kagan’s success was based largely on her ability to woo deep-pocketed alums to give back to their alma mater. The result: about $303 million pulled in during her tenure.
But what happens when those donors come before the Supreme Court as lawyers, plaintiffs or defendants?
Attorneys representing other clients before the Court probably won’t present and potential ethical problems, experts said according to this Associated Press report. But donors who end up before the Court as parties to a dispute just might pose a dilemma, experts say.
“You need two things” to raise ethical questions, Stephen Gillers, a New York University Law School professor and legal ethics expert, told the AP. “You need a contribution so large that we could say that Dean Kagan would feel a sense of great personal gratitude and then you need a case in which the donor had a significant personal or business interest before the court.”
And that may not be such a rare combination. For example, one hefty donor – Sumner Redstone – is chairman of the board of CBS Corp. and Viacom. Viacom is a party in a closely-watched $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit against YouTube and Google that is heading up the appellate ladder, and could end up before the High Court. If Kagan is on the bench, she may have to recuse in that and other donors’ matters, experts said.