After President Obama ’91 nominated Elena Kagan ’86 to be the solicitor general of the United States on January 5, 2009, the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary received many letters in support of the Dean from her colleagues at the law school, alumni, former students, and attorneys. The committee also received a letter from eight former solicitors general, endorsing her. Excerpts from some of the letters are included below:

Four HLS professors submitted letters, including Charles Fried, who was solicitor general of the United States from 1985 to 1989, during the Reagan Administration.

Charles Fried, Beneficial Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, former solicitor general
“She is a superb lawyer and an awesomely intelligent person. In discussion with students and in conference and dispute with colleagues she has a deftness, a quickness and an aptness of phrase – with no tincture at all of pomposity or self-importance – that show she will be able to argue to the Court with consummate skill. … She is a rare and wonderful person, direct, honest, and fearless. I shall miss her and consider our loss a sacrifice we make for the good of the country.”

Jack Goldsmith, Henry L. Shattuck Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, former assistant attorney general, Office of Legal Counsel
“Good judgment is a hard quality to describe, but Kagan has it. She understands problems in all their dimensions, she thinks about them clearly and without ideological suppositions, and she has a knack for understanding well the consequences and ramifications of various courses of action.”

John F. Manning ’85, Bruce Bromley Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel
“Dean Kagan has the skill set and values needed to be a successful Solicitor General. She has a deep knowledge of constitutional and administrative law. She is a quick study. She manages to be, at once, both decisive and reflective. She expresses herself with clarity and economy. And she combines respect for the rule of law with a deep interest in the way law works in the world. I think that she will represent the interests of the United States effectively, while preserving the precious capital that Solicitors General have accumulated through years of practicing extra scrupulousness in their dealings with the Court.”

Laurence H. Tribe ’66, Carl M. Loeb University Professor, Harvard Law School
“She is a remarkable lawyer, administrator, scholar, colleague, teacher, advocate, and human being. I have known her ever since she was my law student and have long marveled at her unique combination of talents. No Dean of Harvard Law School during my forty years on its faculty has come close to Elena in finding ways to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Harvard is, as you know, an environment populated with outsize egos and occasionally cantankerous dispositions while containing some of the most productive and sparkling intellects in the world … It is quite a challenge to bring out the best in such a group of powerful personalities. Yet Elena has always managed to do just that. I have no doubt that she would do the same with the enormously talented and justly confident lawyers in the Solicitor General’s Office and that, over time, she would help even the United States Supreme Court to become the best institution it is capable of becoming.”


Bradford A. Berenson ’91, Sidley Austin, associate White House counsel 2001-2003
“The record of Dean Kagan’s accomplishments in both public and private life provide considerable assurance that she will be a great success in the position to which President Obama has nominated her. Her skill as a leader and manager are unquestioned, as she has led Harvard Law School, an institution far harder to manage than the Solicitor General’s Office, into a period of robust renaissance. Her previous government experience at the center of the Executive Branch equips her well to understand and respond in constructive ways to the needs and interests of the various federal agency and department clients she will serve as Solicitor General. Her legal acumen is more than equal to the task she faces, as reflected in her scholarship. The spirit of toleration and fair-minded consideration of competing views she brought to the Deanship reflect the sort of temperament and judgment that will inspire confidence in the Justices of the Supreme Court as well as the private parties with whom she will need to interact as SG. … In sum, I believe this is an outstanding nomination.”

Paul T. Cappuccio ’86, executive vice president and general counsel, TimeWarner, associate deputy attorney general at Department of Justice 1991-1993
“In my view, the President could not have picked a more highly-qualified, talented, and well-suited person than Elena to be Solicitor General. Elena’s resume speaks for itself. But I also know from first-hand experience that Elena is brilliant, harder working than anyone I met in law school, and has the utmost integrity. She has a very even and judicious temperament, is a wonderful person with an open demeanor, and she listens with care an interest to the views of others.”

Brackett B. Denniston III ’73, senior vice president and general counsel for General Electric, chief legal counsel Massachusetts Governor William Weld ’70 1993-1996, chief of U.S. Attorney’s Office Major Frauds Unit 1982-1986)

“Elena is a gifted leader and person. She has a brilliant mind, enormous dedication to excellence and a passionate belief in the centrality of the rule of law. As you know, the Solicitor General’s office has long standing traditions, although not always uniformly adhered to, of high standards and the preeminent importance of the rule of law. Elena will preserve and extend those important traditions.”

Joseph Flom ‘48, partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
“…I have found Dean Kagan to have excellent judgment and superlative management and advocacy skills, as well as a comprehensive knowledge of the law and the importance of the rule of law. I am convinced that if confirmed, Dean Kagan will be an outstanding Solicitor General and that she will make a great contribution to the Office.”

Robert D. Joffe ’67, partner, Cravath, Swaine & Moore
“She has been a wildly successful Dean at the Harvard Law School, no mean feat. She has successfully handled all the school’s various constituencies, students, faculty, alumni, donors, the Cambridge community and the larger public. I have seen her again and again handle difficult groups with varying interests, forcefully advocate her position, and prevail based on the strength and logic of her argument. …Elena is highly respected by the legal community. I have never heard a lawyer, regardless of political views, speak ill of her abilities or for that matter of her. I have no doubt she would make a great Solicitor General and urge her confirmation.”

Robert J. Katz ’72, General Counsel, Secretary to the board of directors, executive vice president, The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
“There is genuine grieving at the prospect of her departure [from Harvard Law School], matched with universal pride, good wishes and awareness that if she must leave, she is leaving at a point and in a way that is impeccable. It is almost trivializing to say that she will be leaving Harvard Law School a far stronger, and also a far better, place for her tenure as professor and Dean. … Elena Kagan is truly a lawyer in the best sense, and that is the sense in which she will serve as the people’s senior advocate.”

John Payton ’77, President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc.
“I know Dean Kagan. She combines intellectual depth with curiosity and dynamism. I am also a Harvard Law School graduate and I regularly visit the campus. Harvard Law School has undergone tremendous transformation and development under her leadership — in its curriculum, in its diversity, and in its vibrancy. … There is also an historic aspect to Dean Kagan’s nomination to be Solicitor General. Since 1870, all 47 persons selected to serve as Solicitor General have been men; thus, Dean Kagan would be our nation’s first woman to hold the honor of serving in this distinguished role.”

Clifford M. Sloan ’84, partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
“The most striking quality about Elena Kagan is that, in every position she has held, she has been universally respected and admired. She is widely known as somebody who is principled, thoughtful, and conciliatory. As one who has had the privilege of serving in Administrations of both political parties, I am convinced that Elena Kagan will be the kind of government official who is viewed as exemplifying the very best type of public servant – an individual who is known solely for her dedication to the public interest.”

David A. Strauss ’78, Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School, former attorney-adviser in the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice and an assistant to the Solicitor General of the United States
“Dean Kagan is an inspired choice to be Solicitor General. She is, first of all, extraordinarily able. She is a great lawyer, as her academic record shows. She also understands how institutions work, as her brilliant tenure as Dean of the Harvard Law School amply testifies. Perhaps even more important, Dean Kagan has the qualities of personal and intellectual integrity that, in my view, are important in any government lawyer but absolutely indispensable in the Solicitor General. …The Solicitor General has to ask tough questions, think through difficult legal issues, and present the government’s positions to the Supreme Court in a way that reflects the highest standards of professionalism. I have seen Dean Kagan demonstrate, over and over, that she has the energy, the intelligence, the skill, and the integrity to do exactly those things. In my view Elena Kagan has the potential to be on a very short list of the greatest Solicitors General of the last one hundred years.”

Former solicitors general, including Paul D. Clement ’92
“The well-deserved stature that Kagan has achieved in the legal profession will enhance her tenure as Solicitor General, ensuring that, within the executive branch, her voice and the conclusions reached by the office of the Solicitor General will be accorded the highest respect. The extraordinary skill she has demonstrated in bringing to Harvard an impressive array of new scholars, her ability to manage and lead a complex institution, and the high regard in which she is held by persons of a wide variety of political and social views, suggest that she will excel at the important job of melding the views of various agencies and departments into coherent positions that advance the best interests of the national government.”

Former attorneys general, assistant attorneys general, and deputy attorneys general, including Janet Reno ’63, Jamie S. Gorelick ’75, Loretta C. Argrett ’76 and Lois Schiffer ’69
“Each of us has been the first woman, or among the first women, to hold her office in the Justice Department. Based on our experiences in the Department, we fully understand the demands of the office to which… Ms. Kagan ha[s] been nominated. We have no hesitation in concluding that… [she] possesses the skills and character to excel in the position for which she has been nominated.”

Law school deans, including Harold H. Koh ’80, dean of Yale Law School
“The Solicitor General not only crafts legal arguments and presents them to the Supreme Court, but also manages a high-quality law office. She must oversee the national appeals process and forge workable agreements and compromises among the countless agencies and offices that have conflicting, or competing, stakes in cases. It is a job that requires administrative and negotiation skills as well as legal acumen and Elena Kagan excels along all relevant dimensions. Her skills in legal analysis are first-rate. Her writings in constitutional and administrative law are highly respected and widely cited. She is an incisive and astute analyst of law with a deep understanding of both doctrine and policy. She is superbly qualified to fulfill the role of representing the United States in the Supreme Court.”

Former lawyers in the Office of the Solicitor General, including Kenneth S. Geller ’71, former deputy solicitor general and assistant to the solicitor general
“…Dean Kagan is a person of great legal and personal skills, intellect, integrity, independence and judgment. We therefore believe, based on extensive personal experience, that she has all of the attributes that are essential to an outstanding Solicitor General.”

Miguel A. Estrada, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; former assistant to the solicitor general
“I have never met a lawyer who knows Elena and is not utterly impressed by her intellect, temperament, and maturity. Indeed, it would be difficult to do justice to her many accomplishments or to find many lawyers with comparable achievements. … Her tenure as Dean demonstrats that she is a uniquely gifted administrator – someone who can create consensus even in an institution that had become notorious for its fractiousness. For good measure, she has worked tirelessly to bring intellectual diversity to an institution that for too long had too little of it. I can personally attest, from my service on Harvard’s Board of Visitors, that Elena has significantly changed the place for the better.”