Dean Kagan becomes U.S. solicitor general
On March 19, 2009, Dean Elena Kagan ’86 was confirmed by the United States Senate as the 45th solicitor general of the United States—and the first woman solicitor general in U.S. history.
President Barack Obama ’91 nominated Kagan in early January, and on Feb. 10 the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to consider her nomination.
In her opening statement to the committee in February, Kagan said, “To have the opportunity to lead the Solicitor General’s Office is the honor of a lifetime. As you know, this is an office with a long and rich tradition, not only of extraordinary legal skill but also of extraordinary professionalism and integrity. That is due, in large measure, to the people who have led it.”
Kagan served in the White House during the Clinton administration, first as associate counsel to the president (1995-96) and then as deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy and deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council (1997-99).
In those positions she played a key role in the executive branch’s formulation, advocacy, and implementation of law and policy in areas ranging from education to crime to public health.
In 1999, she joined the HLS faculty as a visiting professor, and she was appointed dean in 2003. During her deanship, she oversaw a period of remarkable growth at HLS, including a headline-making reform of the curriculum, an impressive expansion of the faculty, a major initiative to support public service and the design of a new building complex now under construction.
Kagan will be on leave from the faculty during her service as solicitor general. With her confirmation, HLS Professor Howell Jackson ’82 became acting dean of the law school.
After President Obama nominated Kagan to be solicitor general, the Senate Judiciary Committee received many letters in support of her nomination from her colleagues at the law school, alumni, former students and others. The committee also received a letter of endorsement from eight former solicitors general, who served in Democratic and Republican administrations, and others from law school deans, HLS Iraq War veterans, and the National Association of Women Lawyers. Four HLS professors submitted letters, including Charles Fried, who was solicitor general from 1985 to 1989 during the Reagan administration.
HLS solicitors general: “In the middle of everything that’s legal”
Dean Elena Kagan ’86 made history in March when she became the first woman confirmed as solicitor general of the United States. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (for whom Kagan clerked) called the solicitor general’s post—which he held from 1965 to 1967—“maybe the best job” he ever had. As solicitor general, he said, “[you’re] in the dead middle of everything that’s legal and you have your two cents to put in.” Kagan, the 45th solicitor general, joins a long line of solicitors general with ties to Harvard Law School. They are as follows:
|Charles Evans Hughes Jr. ’12||1929-30||Herbert Hoover|
|Francis Biddle ’11||1940-41||Franklin Roosevelt|
|Walter J. Cummings Jr. ’40||1952-53||Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower|
|Archibald Cox ’37||1961-65||John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson|
|Erwin Griswold ’28 S.J.D. ’29||1967-73||Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon|
|Wade H. McCree Jr. ’44||1977-81||Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan|
|Charles Fried||1985-89||Ronald Reagan|
|Paul Clement ’92||2005-08||George W. Bush|