Obama Nominates Solicitor General Kagan to U.S. Supreme Court

WASHINGTON, DC, May 10, 2010 (ENS) – President Barack Obama this morning nominated Solicitor General of the United States Elena Kagan as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she would fill the position on the nine-judge bench that will be left vacant by the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens.

In announcing the nomination, President Obama called Kagan “one of the nation’s foremost legal minds” and praised her understanding of the law and how it touches peoples’ lives.

“That understanding of law, not as an intellectual exercise or words on a page, but as it affects the lives of ordinary people, has animated every step of Elena’s career – including her service as Solicitor General today,” said the President.

From left, Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama, and U.S. Supreme Court nominee Solicitor General Elena Kagan walk through the White House to the East Room for the nomination annoucement. May 10, 2010. (Photo courtesy The White House)

Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the right of corporations to spend to influence elections, Obama praised Kagan’s arguments against that outcome.

“During her time in this office, she’s repeatedly defended the rights of shareholders and ordinary citizens against unscrupulous corporations. Last year, in the Citizens United case, she defended bipartisan campaign finance reform against special interests seeking to spend unlimited money to influence our elections,” said Obama. “Despite long odds of success, with most legal analysts believing the government was unlikely to prevail in this case, Elena still chose it as her very first case to argue before the Court.”

“I think that says a great deal not just about Elena’s tenacity, but about her commitment to serving the American people,” Obama said. “I think it says a great deal about her commitment to protect our fundamental rights, because in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.”

Obama praised Kagan’s “openness to a broad array of viewpoints” and her “fair mindedness.”

“Her passion for the law is anything but academic,” he said. “She believes, as I do, that exposure to a wide array of perspectives is the foundation not just for a sound legal education but a successful life in the law.”

Kagan said, “During the last year as I have served as Solicitor General, my longstanding appreciation for the Supreme Court’s role in our constitutional democracy has become ever deeper and richer.”

President Barack Obama announces his nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo courtesy The White House)

“The Court is an extraordinary institution in the work it does and in the work it can do for the American people by advancing the tenets of our Constitution, by upholding the rule of law, and by enabling all Americans, regardless of their background or their beliefs, to get a fair hearing and an equal chance at justice,” she said.

Environmentalists lost no time in giving their approval to the nominee.

Glenn Sugameli, founder and head of the environmental community’s Judging the Environment project, said, “We welcome President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan, whose record shows an essential understanding of the importance of upholding and enforcing laws that protect people, wildlife and the environment.”

“While she was dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan made environmental law a top priority,” said Sugameli. “She helped found the Environmental Law Program, and, in one of her most prominent hires, recruited prominent environmental scholar Jody Freeman to lead the program. Kagan also started an Environmental Law and Policy Clinic where students provide vital assistance on cases and policy.”

“It is critical that Justice Stevens’ successor be fair-minded and experienced and understand why environmental laws were written,” Sugameli said.

Kagan is the first woman to hold the office of Solicitor General, having been nominated by President Obama on January 26, 2009, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 19, 2009.

The task of the Office of the Solicitor General is to supervise and conduct government litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court. Virtually all such litigation is channeled through the Office of the Solicitor General and is actively conducted by the Office. The United States is involved in approximately two-thirds of all the cases the U.S. Supreme Court decides on the merits each year.

Kagan was formerly dean of Harvard Law School and Charles Hamilton Houston Professor of Law at Harvard University. She also had been a professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School. During the administration of President Bill Clinton, Kagan served as associate White House counsel.

Elena Kagan addresses students at the Harvard Center for Public Leadership, November 2005. (Photo courtesy Harvard Center for Public Leadership)

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised President Obama’s selection process.

“As a scholar of the Constitution himself, he brought a wealth of knowledge and insight to his selection process,” said the senator. “He wanted to select an outstanding future Justice who is well within the mainstream of legal and constitutional thought, and her recent Senate confirmation to be Solicitor General of the United States would appear to support that.”

Senator Leahy said Kagan could be confirmed before August.

“The Senate has adequate time to thoroughly review Ms. Kagan’s impressive qualifications and academic writings, as well as her court filings and oral arguments while she has served the nation as Solicitor General, and consider her nomination this summer,” said Senator Leahy.

“I will work with Senator Sessions, the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to schedule her confirmation hearing promptly,” he said. “The Senate acted responsibly to confirm both Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Sotomayor before the start of the Court’s term in both of those instances. Applying the same standard to this nomination, the Senate should confirm Ms. Kagan before the August recess.”

Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, pointed to difficulties with Kagan’s nomination, such as the fact that she has never served on the bench. “Kagan’s lack of judicial experience and short time as Solicitor General, arguing just six cases before the Court, is troubling,” he said.

Any conflict over Kagan’s nomination is likely to focus on her dedication to serving individual, ordinary Americans. Sessions said, “It is in this context that Ms. Kagan’s nomination will be considered.”

Sessions said, “There is a growing sentiment among everyday Americans that Washington is ignoring the Constitution’s limits on government power. People are rightly concerned by a breathtaking expansion of government, as well as an erosion of respect for the importance of individual rights and the roles of local officials and state legislatures.”

“This Washington-knows-best mentality is evident in all branches of government, but is especially troublesome in the judiciary, where unelected judges have twisted the words of our Constitution to advance their own political, economic, and social agendas,” said Sessions, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case earlier this year.

Kagan lost the argument in this case, her first as Solicitor General before the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 that under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution corporations could not be prohibited from spending to influence elections. Justice Stevens sided with Kagan.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called Kagan “a worthy nominee to replace Justice Stevens, a jurist who Americans have respected and admired for so many years.”

“I am particularly pleased President Obama has chosen a nominee from outside the judicial monastery. I believe that through her confirmation process, Elena Kagan will demonstrate that her primary allegiance is to fairness, justice and the rule of law, not ideology,” said Reid.

“When Solicitor General Kagan is confirmed,” said Reid, “the Supreme Court will have three sitting female Justices for the first time – a historic occurrence that is long overdue.”

Solicitor General Elena Kagan, right, joins Martha Minow, her successor as dean of Harvard Law School, in a lecture at HLS, September 2009. (Photo courtesy Harvard Law Record)

“Nevadans and all Americans want us to confirm a nominee who is not only immensely qualified, but also has an understanding of the real world impact the Court’s rulings will have on the American people. They want a nominee who will stand up for average Americans and ensure they get a fair hearing even against the largest and wealthiest corporations. I am confident that once confirmed, Elena Kagan will work to ensure equal justice for all Americans.”

“This is a day on which the Harvard Law School community is immensely proud,” said Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. “President Obama – himself a son of Harvard Law School – has nominated to the highest court in the land a leader of tremendous vision who has been supremely dedicated to justice and the rule of law throughout a distinguished career marked by the passionate pursuit of excellence.”

If her nomination is confirmed by the Senate, Kagan will join five other Harvard Law School alumni on the high court: Chief Justice John G. Roberts ’79, Justice Anthony Kennedy ’61, Stephen Breyer ’64, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who attended HLS from 1956 to 1958 and ultimately received her degree from Columbia Law School), and Antonin Scalia ’60.

Kagan spent six years in Chicago, on the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School, and her time there overlapped with President Obama’s.

The President was a constitutional law lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004. Kagan joined the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School as an assistant professor in 1991 and became a tenured professor of law in 1995.

From 1995 to 1999, Kagan served in the Clinton White House, first as associate counsel to the president (1995-96) and then as deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy, and deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council (1997-99).

Kagan first came to Harvard Law School as a visiting professor in 1999 and became professor of law in 2001. She was appointed dean of the law school in 2003.

Kagan graduated from Princeton University in 1981. She earned a master’s in philosophy from Oxford and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1986. Kagan clerked for Abner Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit and then for the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

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