Elena Kagan knows a little bit about how Supreme Court nomination hearings go. Back in 1993, she worked with the Senate Judiciary Committee as a staff aide assisting in the confirmation of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now, as a front runner on most lists, she just might get to experience the process from the other side. Last spring, she was one of just four candidates to interview with President Obama for the seat that eventually went to Sonia Sotomayor.
A longtime White House legal and policy aide in the Clinton Administration, Kagan became dean of Harvard Law School in 2003, where she earned plaudits for working well with conservative as well as liberal minds. She was brought back into the Obama Administration last year, where as solicitor general, the government's top litigator, she has been central to the Obama Administration's claims of executive power. This includes several controversial decisions to continue core facets of Bush Administration policy on issues like state secrets, military commissions and the denial of due-process rights to detainees at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. On social issues, she has tilted largely liberally, with a solid pro-choice and pro-gay-rights record. As Harvard's dean, she called the military's policy against gays and lesbians serving openly "a moral injustice of the first order."
Of course, past personal views do not always translate into sympathetic legal opinions, a fact she made clear in her confirmation hearings for solicitor last February. As a young law clerk, Kagan, 49, once penned a memo saying it would be difficult for a religious organization to take government funding to counsel teenagers about pregnancy "without injecting some kind of religious teaching." When a Senator asked her about the memo, Kagan did not hesitate to distance herself from its views, saying she had fresh eyes two decades later. "I looked at it, and I thought, That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard," she said.