What Do We Know About Elena Kagan?

President Obama’s Choice for the Supreme Court is Hard to Figure Out


Photo: flickr.com/dsearls
PHOTO: Flickr/dsearls

On May 10, President Obama announced his choice of Elena Kagan as the next Supreme Court justice. Kagan is currently the United States Solicitor General. As Solicitor General, she represents the U.S. government in cases at the Supreme Court. She has also been a law professor.

While it is the job of Supreme Court justices to defend the Constitution, they must also decide what the Constitution really says. A justice’s personal opinions can make a big difference when deciding a case. As U.S. Senators question Elena Kagan in confirmation hearings this summer, they will try to figure out how she would rule on future Supreme Court cases. Not much is known about Kagan’s opinions on various topics. Most observers agree that Obama chose Kagan because she is liked by conservatives and could be easily approved by the Senate. “President Obama went for a choice that he knew would make it through the confirmation process,” wrote Ellen Ratner, a Fox News contributor.

“Obama should have done the right thing, the courageous thing, and filled Justice Stevens’ seat with someone who can fill his shoes. His nomination of Elena Kagan will move the delicately balanced court to the Right [more conservative],” wrote law professor and former National Lawyers Guild President Marjorie Cohn on Counterpunch.org.

Here are some key issues and what we know, or don’t know, about Elena Kagan:

Presidential power: should it be expanded or limited?
Kagan did not speak out against President Bush expanding his powers (to spy on U.S. citizens, keep people in prison without trial and to keep government secrets from the public) as other law professors did.

Gay marriage: should a man be allowed to marry a man and a woman be allowed to marry a woman?
Kagan appears to say no. In applying for her current job, she wrote: “There is no federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage.” However, Kagan banned U.S. military recruiters from Harvard Law School because she did not agree with the military policy to kick out people who say they are gay or lesbian.

Holding people without trial: Should the United States government be allowed to arrest people and hold them without trial for years or decades (like is currently happening at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba)?
Kagan said yes. In her hearing to be confirmed for her current job, she agreed that holding someone for a long time without trial is okay, even if the person was not captured on a battlefield.

Diversity in schools: Should programs to make schools more ethnically diverse be allowed?
Kagan hired 32 full professors in her job at Harvard Law School. Only one of them was not white. Only seven of them were women.


See also: Choosing a New Justice

2 thoughts on “What Do We Know About Elena Kagan?”

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