On Monday, it was announced that Elena Kagan has been nominated by President Barack Obama to replace retiring US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (said to be the most left wing of all Justices of the US Supreme Court) when he stands down this Summer.  If her nomination is confirmed by the Senate, Ms Kagan will be the fourth ever female Justice of the US Supreme Court and will take the number of women currently serving up to three (joining Justices Ginsberg and Sotomayor on the bench).

Born in New York in 1960, Elena Kagan grew up in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and later attended Princeton University, Oxford University and Harvard Law School.  She served in the Clinton administration between 1995 and 1999, before being appointed as Dean of Harvard Law School in 2003.  Last March, Ms Kagan was appointed as the 45th Solicitor General of the United States.  Interestingly, until this appointment Ms Kagan had never fought a case in Court: the majority of her legal work to date has taken place in the classroom rather than in the Court Room.   Ms Kagan has never before served as a judge and at 50 would be the youngest member of the US Supreme Court. 

As would be expected, Ms Kagan’s nomination has sparked debate about the representation of women on the bench.  The Guardian’s Afua Hirsch yesterday commented that the English judiciary should also be making judicial diversity a priority, noting that although 37% of judges in the tribunal service are women, and that females make up 19.4% of the judiciary as a whole, all the heads of division are men.  Add to that the fact that only three of the 37 members of the Court of Appeal and only one of the UKSC Justices are female, and it is clear there is work still to be done here.

However in the United States, the interest that has been taken in Elena Kagan’s nomination goes beyond the issue of gender.  The nomination has been met by the observation that if Elena Kagan is confirmed as a Justice, there will no longer be a Protestant on the bench (six of the nine Justices are Roman Catholic, and, if Ms Kagan’s nomination is confirmed, the other three will be Jewish), and a photograph of Ms Kagan published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal has received heavy criticism from gay and lesbian organisations in the US. 

Observers have also noted that Ms Kagan is a moderate choice (somewhat surprising given who she would be replacing).  She has been referred to as “neither particularly exciting to liberals nor antagonising to conservatives“.  However, it is interesting to note that she has taken a stand on some controversial issues in the past.  As Dean of Harvard Law School, she banned military recruiters from using the school’s recruitment office as a result of their ban on openly gay service members, and during the Clinton administration advised on issues such as abortion. 

Elena Kagan is today meeting with top Senators at Capitol Hill, including Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.  She is expected to face questions about whether, as a Justice, she would be able to refrain from simply rubber stamping Obama’s policies.  However, despite the fact that there may be some tough questions ahead, it has been reported that 82% of the US voting public believe Ms Kagan will get the necessary confirmation votes to take a seat in the US Supreme Court.