Elena Kagan's Cases & Political Views

Instructor: Benjamin Truitt

Benjamin has a Bachelors in philosophy and a Master's in humanities.

Elena Kagan is an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States who has brought her unique and pragmatic perspective on politics to her case law. Kagan replaced outgoing Justice John Paul Stevens and is assigned to the 9th Circuit Court.

Elena Kagan

If you were serving as a judge in a case, how would you decide on how to interpret the rules and understand the facts? While you may want to be consistent and decide based on the facts, you may find that these two desires can come into conflict.

Judges on the Supreme Court have faced many different questions about how to adjudicate claims and resolve disputes. Elena Kagan was selected to replace John Paul Stevens to be in charge of the 9th Circuit Court in 2010. In this lesson, we'll explore Elena Kagan's cases and how they are connected to her personal views.

Elena Kagan
Elena Kagan


Elena Kagan was not a courtroom attorney prior to her appointment as Solicitor General. Her first argued case before the Supreme Court was the landmark case of Citizens United v. FEC, which resulting in the striking down of parts of the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act that limited corporate spending in elections. Kagan argued on behalf of the Obama Administration that the court needed to uphold such restrictions to prevent undue corporate influence.

Kagan joined the Supreme Court and tended to rule with the liberal wing of the court 90% of the time. Her first opinion was issued in the case of Ransome v. FIA Card Services, where she wrote for the majority in favor of the respondent that a car lease did not qualify as 'applicable expenses' under the terms of bankruptcy. Kagan established her pragmatic reading of text and application of the law in the case that defined her judicial philosophy.

Kagan's first dissent was argued in the case of Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, where she dissented from the majority on whether or not Arizona taxpayers had the standing to challenge the issuance of credits to religious schools under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. Kagan argued, using pragmatic reasoning on the issue, that the majority's ruling precluded the ability of anyone to have standing to challenge establishment. Kagan noted that the use of tax credits versus other methods practically made no difference as she wrote:

''Cash grants and targeted tax breaks are means of accomplishing the same government objective--to provide financial support to select individuals or organizations. Taxpayers who oppose state aid of religion have equal reason to protest whether that aid flows from the one form of subsidy or the other. Either way, the government has financed the religious activity. And so either way, taxpayers should be able to challenge the subsidy.''

Kagan's most notable opinion issued for the courts was her reasoning in the case of Cooper v. Harris in 2017 over racial redistricting. The court listened to a case where district lines were drawn up in a way in North Carolina to limit the effective power of racial voting.

Kagan's opinion examined the facts of the district lines and rejected arguments that the districting was partisan in the case of District 12, noting that the effective result was racial gerrymandering. Kagan also noted that the lines drawn in District 1 were clearly done so as to explicitly comply with the Voting Rights Act on racial lines, but lacked the evidence that such a district was necessary given the racial voting behavior. Her ruling on this case established a new principle in regard to arguments for political redistricting.

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