Princeton alumna confirmed to U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Senate Aug. 5 confirmed President Barack Obama's nomination of Princeton alumna Elena Kagan to serve as the 112th justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

When she takes the oath of office to fill the seat held by Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired in June, she will be the fourth woman to serve on the high court, and the third consecutive Princeton University graduate to be appointed as a Supreme Court justice.

"Princeton is very proud of Elena Kagan, and we congratulate her on her confirmation," Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman said. "As a university that seeks to prepare its students for lives of service, we are very pleased that the last three Supreme Court justices all did their undergraduate work at Princeton."

Justice Samuel Alito, who earned an A.B. in 1972 from Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, was appointed to the court Jan. 31, 2006, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who earned an A.B. with highest honors in history from Princeton in 1976, was appointed to the court Aug. 6, 2009. A native of New York City, Kagan earned an A.B. with highest honors in history in 1981.

It is 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.

At Princeton Kagan received the 1981 Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Graduating Scholarship, and she 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.

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.

Kagan is the 11th Princeton graduate to sit on the U.S. Supreme 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 Princeton alumni 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.