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Harvard Law Dean Picked for Solicitor General

Posted Jan 5, 2009 8:35 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Updated: Harvard law dean Elena Kagan is President-elect Obama's choice for solicitor general.

Kagan told associates the news in an e-mail today, according to the Boston Globe's Political Intelligence blog. She wrote that the position offers the opportunity to "help advance this nation’s commitment to the rule of law at what I think is a critical time in our history," according to the blog's account.

The American Prospect's blog Tapped says Obama has also nominated these lawyers for Justice Department posts: David Ogden of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr as deputy attorney general; Tom Perrelli of Jenner & Block as associate attorney general; and Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen—who has criticized past Justice Department memos approving harsh interrogation tactics for terrorism suspects—as assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.

The Associated Press had previously reported that Kagan was the front-runner, relying on information from a person briefed on the appointment process. Kagan has never argued a U.S. Supreme Court case, but she has experience at a Washington, D.C., law firm and as a legal adviser in the Clinton administration, the story says. Kagan is also a former law clerk to Thurgood Marshall.

Kagan and President-elect Barack Obama both worked as law professors at the University of Chicago in the 1990s. Obama is a Harvard law graduate.

At Harvard, Kagan lured high-profile faculty from other law schools and broke fund-raising records, the Boston Globe reports. She became dean in 2003 and made some immediate “small-scale improvements” such as free coffee in classroom buildings, free tampons in women’s bathrooms and a new beach volleyball court and skating rink, the story says. The changes have made her popular with students.

She told the newspaper in an interview last fall that she got the idea for symbolic changes from former President Clinton, who believed smaller changes can help solve big problems.

Harvard law professor Charles Fried told the newspaper that the 48-year-old dean has been able to achieve consensus in a difficult environment.

"The place is like it's never been before," Fried said. "She has managed to calm the factionalism, so it's completely disappeared. I think she knocked a few heads, but she worked by and large by persuasion."

Updated at 10:07 a.m. CT to say that Kagan is telling associates she has received the appointment, at 10:12 a.m. CT to include news of other Justice Department appointments, and at 10:30 a.m. CT to include additional details.

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