Justice Elena Kagan | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

Elena Kagan, appointed by President Obama in 2010, serves as an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, often voting liberally.

Elena Kagan is one of the nine judges, known as Justices, who sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. As an Associate Justice, Kagan is part of the highest court in the United States. The President at the time, Barack Obama, appointed her in 2010. Kagan is recognized for her liberal voting pattern, meaning she often supports progressive viewpoints and policies.

Kagan’s Early Life and Education

Kagan was born in New York City in 1960, growing up in a family passionate about law and politics. After finishing high school, Kagan pursued her higher studies at Princeton University, then Oxford University in England. Afterward, she attended Harvard Law School. Here, Kagan proved herself an outstanding student, earning the respect of her professors and peers.

Kagan’s Professional Journey

After graduating, Kagan embarked on a career in law, building an impressive resume. She first served as a law clerk, which is a starting position for law graduates. Then she became a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. Here, Kagan got to know Barack Obama, who was also teaching at the school at the time.

Kagan later returned to her alma mater, Harvard, but this time as a faculty member. She eventually became the Dean of Harvard Law School, a position of significant influence and prestige. Her tenure was marked by significant improvements in the school environment and curriculum.

In 2009, President Obama appointed Kagan as the Solicitor General of the United States. As the Solicitor General, Kagan represented the U.S. government in cases before the Supreme Court.

Appointment to the Supreme Court

In 2010, President Obama nominated Kagan to the Supreme Court. The Senate, after much deliberation, confirmed her nomination. This confirmation made Kagan the fourth woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history. As a Justice, Kagan has a lifetime appointment, meaning she will serve on the Court as long as she chooses, up to the end of her life.

Kagan’s Voting Pattern and Influence

Kagan is known for her liberal leanings. In Supreme Court decisions, she often votes in favor of progressive policies and interpretations of the law. Her approach to cases is typically pragmatic and focused on the real-world implications of legal decisions.

Though each Justice on the Supreme Court has only one vote, Kagan’s influence extends beyond her vote. She’s known for her clear and engaging writing style, making complex legal issues accessible to the public. Kagan also has a reputation as a consensus builder. She works to foster agreement among the justices, even when their opinions initially differ.


In summary, Elena Kagan is a remarkable figure in the U.S. legal system. She began her journey in law as a student and climbed the ladder of success to become a Supreme Court Justice. She plays an instrumental role in shaping U.S. law through her liberal-leaning votes and powerful writings. Her story serves as an inspiration to many, particularly to young women who aspire to a career in law. Kagan’s tenure as a Supreme Court Justice is a testament to her dedication to justice, her expertise in law, and her commitment to the progress of society.

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Last Modified: 05/28/2021

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