In a private ceremony at the Supreme Court Friday afternoon, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. swore in former Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan as the nation's 45th solicitor general. The ceremony, which took place with no media present, was held in the chambers of the chief justice and launches the tenure of the first woman to hold the position.
In a statement released by the Department of Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said, "Elena Kagan's intelligence, experience and commitment to the rule of law will make her an exceptional solicitor general. With the addition of Elena Kagan, we are building a strong, effective leadership team to enforce our nation's laws."
Kagan takes office after a confirmation process that was rougher, and took longer, than most had expected. The Senate confirmed her Thursday by a 61-31 vote. Republicans questioned her unwillingness to answer substantive questions about her views, and her lack of experience in appellate advocacy. Kagan has not argued an appeal before the Supreme Court or any other court.
Which leads many to wonder whether she will respond to that skepticism by arguing a case this term rather than, as some have suggested, waiting until the fall. The latest we hear from insiders is that she is eager to take on her first case and argue this term -- and possibly a high-profile case, at that.
The Court returns to the bench today, where Kagan will probably be formally presented to the full court. The lawyers for the next two weeks of argument have already been named.
After an early-April recess, the next and final round of arguments for the term begins April 20, and it offers numerous possibilities for Kagan to argue. New government advocates before the Court are traditionally assigned either easy winners or sure losers, but Kagan is the boss, and it would be entirely up to her.
One attractive possibility is the case scheduled for April 29, the final argument day of the term: Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, a high-stakes challenge to the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act -- a law whose preservation the Obama administration views as highly important. One informed source says that's the case Kagan is aiming to argue.
Gregory Coleman of the Austin, Texas, firm of Yetter, Warden & Coleman who will argue on the other side, challenging the Voting Rights Act, said Friday he has not heard whom his adversary will be. But he would not be surprised if it is Kagan. "She's a tremendously smart woman," says Coleman, a former Texas solicitor general and former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas. "I can't imagine she would have any trouble getting up to speed on it."
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.