Elena Kagan: former solicitors general back Supreme Court nominee

Elena Kagan was the first woman solicitor general – the government’s top lawyer at the Supreme Court. Former solicitors general have written a letter endorsing the Supreme Court nominee.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP
Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan meets with Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa June 8 on Capitol Hill. This week, Ms. Kagan received the endorsement of eight former solicitors general, Republicans as well as Democrats.

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan has won the endorsement of the eight men who preceded her as solicitor general of the United States.

Former solicitors general for the past 25 years – serving Presidents Reagan through George W. Bush – said Ms. Kagan had “honored the finest traditions” of that office during her past year of service as the government’s top lawyer at the Supreme Court.

The endorsement was made in a letter sent Tuesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee in advance of Kagan’s confirmation hearings, which are set to begin on Monday.

IN PICTURES: Justices with no prior judicial experience

“She really does have the right stuff,” said Seth Waxman in a conference call with reporters.

Mr. Waxman served as President Clinton’s solicitor general at the time Kagan was working as a lawyer and policy adviser in the Clinton White House. He said he also had professional contact with her preparing cases before the high court during the past year and as president of the board of overseers at Harvard where Kagan was dean of the law school.

“She’s a terrific listener. She is a very patient person, and she is remarkably collegial,” Waxman said. He said Kagan takes account of the views of others, and tries to understand them. She seeks to identify consensus and common ground, he said.

“Those kinds of skills are extremely important” at the Supreme Court, Waxman said. “Everything the Supreme Court does, it sits as a body of nine judges. You are sitting in a family relationship with the other justices.”

If confirmed, Kagan will become only the fifth individual elevated from solicitor general to a seat on the Supreme Court. The list includes former President William Howard Taft, Stanley Reed, Robert Jackson, and Thurgood Marshall.

“She is following a pretty illustrious path,” Waxman said.

Kagan worked as a law clerk for Marshall, and he became a mentor. She later taught law at the University of Chicago and Harvard, where she became the first woman to serve as dean of the law school. Upon her confirmation, Kagan became the first woman to serve as solicitor general.

Some critics have suggested that Kagan is not fully qualified to sit as a justice on the nation’s highest court since she has never served as a judge. Supporters counter that her experience during the past year preparing and arguing cases as solicitor general has prepared her well to become a justice.

“It is hard to imagine a position that would lead to an easier transition to Supreme Court justice than to work as the solicitor general,” said Paul Clement, solicitor general during the George W. Bush administration.

In addition to Waxman and Mr. Clement, Kagan received the endorsement of Charles Fried, Kenneth Starr, Drew Days III, Walter Dellinger, Theodore Olson, and Gregory Garre.

“The Constitution gives the president broad leeway in fulfilling the enormously important responsibility of determining who to nominate for a seat on the Supreme Court,” the former solicitors general said in their letter. “In that spirit, we support the nomination of Elena Kagan to be associate justice and believe that, if confirmed, she will serve on the court with distinction, as have prior solicitor generals who have had that great honor.”

The letter supports the view that service as solicitor general is excellent preparation for a Supreme Court justice.

“The job of solicitor general provides an opportunity to grapple with almost the full gamut of issues that come before the Supreme Court,” the letter says. “The constant interaction with the Supreme Court that comes with being the most frequent litigator before the court also ensures an appreciation for the rhythms and traditions of the court and its workload.”

IN PICTURES: Justices with no prior judicial experience


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