Princeton alumna Kagan nominated to Supreme Court

Princeton alumna Elena Kagan has been nominated by President Barack Obama to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

If confirmed, Kagan would become the fourth female justice. It also would be the first time since 1842 that three of the nine sitting justices attended Princeton, although at that time the University was known as the College of New Jersey.

A native of New York City, Kagan earned an A.B. with highest honors in history in 1981. She received the 1981 Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Graduating Scholarship and attended Worcester College at the University of Oxford, where she received an M. Phil. in 1983. She went on to attend Harvard Law School, where she was supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review, and graduated magna cum laude in 1986. Since 2009 Kagan has served as the solicitor general of the United States.

History Professor Sean Wilentz, who advised Kagan on her senior thesis at Princeton, said that
although his work with her came early in his own career at Princeton, "she remains one of the most outstanding students" he has ever taught.

"I remember her particularly as at once brilliant and skeptical of dogma, with an unusually mature way of thinking that would not settle for easy answers to historical problems," said Wilentz, the Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the American Revolutionary Era. "I have naturally followed Elena's formidable career in the academy and in public service since then, and been fortunate that our paths have crossed a few times. One of the foremost legal minds in the country, she is still the witty, engaging, down-to-earth person I proudly remember from her undergraduate days.

"Without question, she would be a superb addition to the Supreme Court, not just because of her prowess in the law but because of her fundamental commitment to the letter as well as the spirit of the Constitution of the United States," he added.

Prior to her confirmation as solicitor general, Kagan was the Charles Hamilton Houston Professor of Law and dean of Harvard Law School. She joined the Harvard faculty in 1999 and taught administrative law, constitutional law, civil procedure and seminars on issues involving the separation of powers before she was appointed dean in 2003.

Kagan previously served in the White House from 1995 to 1999, first as associate counsel to President Bill Clinton and then as deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy and deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council. In those positions she helped form the executive branch and implement law and policy in a wide range of areas including education, crime and public health.

Early in her career, Kagan was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School; clerked for Judge Abner Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and then for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court; and worked as an associate in the law firm of Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C.

"She exemplifies many of the virtues we hope to see in our students and alumni, and all of us at Princeton should celebrate this nomination," said Provost Christopher Eisgruber, a leading legal scholar and the University's Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Public Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the University Center for Human Values.

If confirmed, Kagan would join Princeton alumni and justices Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court, which would make her the 11th Princeton graduate to sit on the court. In 1842 the three Princetonians who served on the court concurrently were justices Smith Thompson, Peter Daniel and James Moore Wayne, although Daniel was a member of the class of 1805 and did not graduate from Princeton.

The full list of Princeton graduates who have served on the court and the dates of their service are:

  • William Paterson, a graduate of the class of 1763, from 1793 to 1806.
  • Oliver Ellsworth, a graduate of the class of 1766, from 1796 to 1800 (served as chief justice).
  • William Johnson Jr., a graduate of the class of 1790, from 1804 to 1834.
  • (Henry) Brockholst Livingston, a graduate of the class of 1774, from 1806 to 1823.
  • Smith Thompson, a graduate of the class of 1788, from 1823 to 1843.
  • James Moore Wayne, a graduate of the class of 1808, from 1835 to 1867.
  • Mahlon Pitney, a graduate of the class of 1879, from 1912 to 1922.
  • John Marshall Harlan, a graduate of the class of 1920, from 1955 to 1971.
  • Samuel Alito Jr., a graduate of the class of 1972, from 2006 to the present.
  • Sonia Sotomayor, a graduate of the class of 1976, from 2009 to the present.