One month ago, John Paul Stephens announced that he would soon retire from his job as a Supreme Court Justice. President Barack Obama immediately started looking for a replacement. On Monday morning, Obama said that he would nominate Elena Kagan for the job, calling her "one of the nation's foremost legal minds."
The Supreme Court is our nation's top court. Its decisions on legal issues and laws are final and cannot be appealed. The bench is made up of nine people—one Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. Kagan would be an Associate Justice.
An Important Job
In her current role as Solicitor General, Kagan represents the United States when cases are brought before the Supreme Court. "The court is an extraordinary institution in the work it does and the work it can do for the American people," she said.
If the members of the Senate vote to approve her nomination, Kagan will become the 112th Supreme Court Justice. She would be the third woman on the current Court and the fourth in the history of the Supreme Court.
Justices are supposed to judge each case based only on the law, but their personal values and beliefs can affect how they interpret the law. This is why the Senate will try to learn more about Kagan.
A Record of Accomplishment
Kagan grew up in New York City. She graduated from Princeton University in 1981 and received her law degree from Harvard in 1986.
As a lawyer, Kagan has held many high-level jobs. She worked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and was an advisor in the White House while Bill Clinton was President. In 2003, she returned to Harvard to serve as the law school's first female dean.
Last March, Kagan became Solicitor General, the U.S. government's top lawyer before the Supreme Court. Since taking the job, she has argued several cases before the Justices. However, she has never served as a judge.
The Honor of a Lifetime
At age 50, Kagan would be the youngest Justice on the bench. There is no term limit for a Supreme Court Justice, so Kagan could help shape the court's decisions for many years to come.
When will the Senate reach a decision about Kagan? According to Senator Patrick Leahy, who will lead the process, the decision will be made before Labor Day, which is September 6.
In the meantime, Kagan is glad to be considered. "I look forward to working with the Senate," she said, "and thank you, Mr. President, for this honor of a lifetime."