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Elena Kagan Bio: 10 Little-Known Facts, From Socialism to Spitzer

5 years ago
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As a college student in the 1970s and '80s, she was deeply interested in the roots of socialism. Her net worth exceeds $1 million. She calls Eliot Spitzer a personal friend.

Those and other little-known facts about Elena Kagan were revealed Tuesday when the Senate Judiciary Committee released thousands of pages of information about her and her nomination to the Supreme Court. Along with a 200-page questionnaire, the committee release articles, speeches, letters and e-mails from Kagan's past, including her time as the dean of Harvard Law School and the solicitor general of the United States.

The documents give both fans and critics of Kagan a much fuller picture of the next woman who may occupy a seat on the high court, including:

1. She wrote her senior thesis at Princeton on socialism in New York City. In her 134-page thesis, Kagan thanked her brother Marc, "whose involvement in radical causes led me to explore the history of American radicalism,"and dedicated the paper to her parents. In the end, she concluded, "American radicals cannot afford to become their own worst enemy. In unity lies their only hope." Anyone tempted to conclude that Kagan's thesis topic makes her a socialist should remember that Chief Justice John Roberts wrote his senior college thesis on Marxism.

2. Kagan may already know the secret handshake. In 2005, Kagan helmed a panel with Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Stephen Breyer and was the toastmaster at a banquet honoring Appellate Judge Merrick Garland -- a runner-up for Kagan's spot as Supreme Court nominee. In 2008, she moderated panels or introduced panels with Justices Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Earlier this year, she was on a panel with the first female justice, Sandra Day O'Connor, delivered remarks at a dinner to honor Justice Anthony Kennedy, and spoke at an event to honor retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the man she may soon replace.

3. Kagan was on the White House's very short list for SCOTUS. The White House contacted her for the first time more than a month before John Paul Stevens announced he would retire from the Supreme Court on April 9. Kagan got a call from White House counsel Bob Bauer on March 5, 2010, well before Stevens' official announcement, but, the White House suggested, only after Stevens had made it clear he was mulling retirement.

4. It takes a village to pick a Justice. After first getting a call from White House counsel Bob Bauer, Kagan met or spoke with at least 17 people and numerous "groups of people" and White House staff, including David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett, the vice president and the president. One name conspicuously absent from the list of people she met with is White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

5. She has lost $500,000 since January 2009. On her financial disclosure reports, Kagan estimates her net worth at about $1.7 million, including $739,000 in cash and $824,000 in retirement accounts. While she's doing better than most, she's not doing as well as she was just a year ago, when she listed her net worth at $2.26 million. The difference between then and now is a home in Boston, which she listed as an asset at its 2004 purchase price of $1.4 million, which she no longer owns. She now reports she owns no house and no car; has no investments outside of her retirement accounts; and has no debt.

6. She has worked exclusively for Democrats. In 1988, Kagan worked as a researcher for the Dukakis for President campaign. In 1996, she worked briefly for President Bill Clinton's re-election effort while she was also working in the White House. In 2009, she began her work in the Obama administration.

7. Kagan has never tried a case to verdict. Although Kagan has gotten plenty of criticism from Republicans for her lack of judicial experience, she's gotten relatively little blowback for the fact that she had nearly no courtroom experience before becoming solicitor general in 2009. Since then, she has argued six cases before the Supreme Court.

8. She was once a reporter. Kagan was a writer and editor at her college newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, where she wrote frequently about about the school's football team, the Princeton Tigers, the faculty and the college's student body.

9. She has opinions on Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Although Kagan has historically held her opinions closely, she has spoken out twice about legal rights for detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. In 2005, she advocated for prisoners there to have legal representation. In 2007, she wrote a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to encourage him to have federal courts hear habeas petitions of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

10. Eliot Spitzer is a friend. In 2009, Kagan recused herself from a case involving The New York Times and Eliot Spitzer, the former New York governor who resigned amid scandal, because of her friendship with him. Spitzer was a classmate at Harvard Law.

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