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She's a White House veteran

Kagan helped draft Clinton policies on welfare reform, gun control

May 11, 2010|James Oliphant

"The way Bruce and I structured the office was that both of us really superintended the entire operations of the office," Kagan said in 2003. "Bruce and I took responsibility for the whole."

On a regular basis, Reed and Kagan proposed a seemingly never-ending batch of policy proposals to the president: a presidential commission on race, a ban on research for human cloning, an elder-abuse initiative. By and large, following the lead of their boss, they hewed to a centrist course.

That meant, where abortion was concerned, supporting a proposed congressional ban on so-called partial-birth abortions, but only if the law contained exceptions for the health of the mother. Clinton vetoed a 1997 ban because it lacked such an exception. Kagan helped draft a letter to senators outlining the president's position.

A centrist course meant negotiating with the firearms industry on a deal to put child-safety locks on guns rather than risk a legislative showdown. Gun-control efforts were a hallmark of the Clinton administration. Kagan had already been involved in an executive order that required all federal law enforcement officers to install locks on their weapons.

Those moves angered the National Rifle Assn., which became even more alarmed in late 1998 when Clinton proposed closing the "gun show" loophole that allowed firearms purchases without background checks. A legislative effort to do just that was launched as Kagan departed the White House for Harvard in 1999.

Richard Feldman, a former firearms lobbyist who helped broker the trigger-lock deal with Emanuel, said the NRA could make trouble for Kagan simply because she was part of the White House efforts at the time. "They'll try to use it against her," Feldman said. "They'll find a memo."

Kagan left her biggest mark in the area of tobacco regulation.

On Capitol Hill, the occasional cigarette and cigar smoker helped strike a deal among Democrats and Republicans on a bill to allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the industry. (The effort didn't succeed until last year.)

A source present at those negotiations, who asked to remain unidentified because of their sensitivity, said Kagan "was very effective and driving things toward a decision, identifying what the central issue was. She was very pragmatic -- and non-ideological."

The administration sued the industry in a massive racketeering lawsuit in late 1999. By then, Kagan was already at Harvard, where she would become dean in 2003.

The trail she left behind at the White House, paper and otherwise, has yet to be fully documented. A showdown between Senate Republicans, who will want access to memos written by Kagan that have yet to be made public, and the Obama administration may be inevitable.


Bob Secter of the Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.



Elena Kagan

Age: 50

Born: April 28, 1960

Birthplace: New York City


Hunter College High School; graduated 1977

Bachelor's degree in history from Princeton University; graduated 1981

Master of philosophy degree from Oxford in 1983

Harvard Law School; graduated 1986


Clerk for U.S. Circuit Court Judge Abner Mikva: 1986

Clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall: 1987

Associate, Williams & Connolly in Washington: 1989-91

Professor, University of Chicago Law School: 1991-95

Associate White House counsel: 1995

Domestic policy aide: 1996-99

Professor, Harvard Law School: 1999-2003

Dean, Harvard Law School: 2003-09

U.S. solicitor general: 2009-present

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