What to know about Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan

  • Kagan is one of three liberal justices on the conservative-majority court.
  • President Barack Obama nominated Kagan in 2010.
  • Kagan replaced Associate Justice John Paul Stevens.

More than 20 years ago, President Bill Clinton nominated Elena Kagan for a spot on the federal appeals court. But Senate Republicans never took up the nomination and Kagan never became a lower court judge.

The failed nomination wound up putting Kagan on an unconventional path to the Supreme Court. The former Harvard Law School dean appeared resigned to never reaching the high court and said she had mapped out a future for herself in academia. 

But then President Barack Obama appointed Kagan solicitor general – a top role in the Department of Justice  – in 2009. A year later, he picked her to fill a vacancy created by retiring Associate Justice John Paul Stevens. She was confirmed by the Senate in 2010, picking up five Republican votesand became the fourth woman to serve on the Supreme Court. 

President Obama stands with U.S. solicitor general Elena Kagan during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Aug. 6, 2010, after her confirmation as Supreme Court justice by the Senate Thursday.

Here’s what to know about Associate Justice Elena Kagan. 

Who is Elena Kagan? 

Kagan is the 112th justice to serve on the Supreme Court. Prior to her nomination, Kagan was the solicitor general, the top Justice Department lawyer representing the federal government at the Supreme Court. The office is so closely intertwined with the high court that the solicitor general is sometimes referred to as the "10th justice."  

How old is Elena Kagan? 

Elena Kagan was born on April 28, 1960, in New York City. . She is 61 as of March 2022.  

Who appointed Elena Kagan? 

Obama nominated Kagan to the Supreme Court in May 2010. She was confirmed by the Senate in August 2010. 

Who did Elena Kagan replace?

Kagan replaced Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, nominated to the court by Republican President Gerald Ford in 1975.  Stevensdied in 2019

Is Elena Kagan liberal or conservative? 

Kagan was appointed by a Democratic president and is considered part of the court's liberal wing. She is often viewed as more willing to seek a compromise than some of her colleagues. 

How has Elena Kagan ruled? 

Kagan rules overwhelmingly with her liberal colleagues. In the 2020 term, she sided with liberal Associate JusticesSonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer 87% of the time and 90% of the time, respectively, according to the Harvard Law Review. 

Where did Elena Kagan go to school? 

Kagan earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Princeton University in 1981. She got her law degree from Harvard Law School in 1986 after earning a masters degree in philosophy from Oxford University in 1983

How long has Elena Kagan been a Supreme Court Justice? 

Kagan began her service on the court in 2010. By the end of 2022, she will have been a justice for 12 years. 

What is Elena Kagan’s party affiliation? 

Kagan is registered as a Democrat in Washington D.C., according to the judicial watchdog group Fix The Court.  

Does Elena Kagan have a family? 

Kagan has never been married and she does not have children. She has two brothers, Marc and Irving Kagan.

How tall is Elena Kagan? 

Kagan’s 5-foot 3-inch stature earned her the nickname of "Shorty" from the late Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked. 

Is Elena Kagan Jewish? 

Elena Kagan is the second Jewish woman to serve on the Supreme Court after the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. When Associate Justice Stephen Breyer retires, she will be the only Jewish member of the Catholic-majority court.

Was Elena Kagan ever a judge? 

Kagan is the only current justice on the Supreme court to not have prior experience as a judge. She became dean of Harvard Law School in 2003, before leaving the position in 2009 to become solicitor general under Obama. She was the first woman to serve in both positions. She also served in various roles in the Clinton administration from 1995 to 1999

What major cases has Elena Kagan decided? 

Kagan voted in 2015 to deem state laws that ban same-sex marriage unconstitutional in Obergefell v. Hodges. In 2018, Kagan joined the dissenting liberal justices in Trump v. Hawaii after the conservative majority voted to uphold Trump’s travel ban on majority-Muslim countries

What is one of Kagan's most significant opinions? 

Kagan in 2019 wrote the 5-3 majority opinion in Madison v. Alabama, which prohibited the execution of an inmate who could not understand their death sentence due to dementia or psychosis. 

Contributing: John Fritze

What to know about the Supreme Court justices