Elena Kagan’s New York roots are well-known, but her Washington footprint may be bigger than that of any other Supreme Court justice. She clerked for both Abner Mikva, then-chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (who gave her the nickname “Shorty”); she punched her downtown ticket at Williams & Connolly; and she served in the Clinton White House, first as associate counsel and later at the Domestic Policy Council.
After teaching at her alma mater, Harvard Law School, and becoming the law school’s dean, Kagan was named solicitor general by a fellow Harvard Law grad, President Obama, in 2009. The position is sometimes called “the 10th Justice,” because the solicitor argues before the high court. She joined the Court almost two years ago, after Republicans put up a modest fight.
Is Kagan’s up-from-the-Upper-West-Side story more impressive than those of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Sonia Sotomayor? Perhaps not. Ginsburg rose in the legal profession when it was harder for women to do, and the Bronx-born Sotomayor grew up poor. But Kagan is arguably more influential, with stronger ties to the power elite in the city.
At 52, Kagan is the youngest justice and the one whom actuarial tables say is likely to be there the longest. She is the first Supreme Court justice since William Rehnquist not to have previously served as a judge. Kagan, like Rehnquist, has considerable political skills; but unlike him, she’s emerging as a pivotal centrist—voting with usual swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy much more often than any of their colleagues. When Obama tapped Kagan for the Court in 2010 some liberals feared she was too moderate. But so far, that’s put her in the heart of the action.
By Matthew Cooper
Cathy McMorris Rodgers
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state is the highest-ranking woman in the House GOP leadership, the congressional liaison to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and on the list of potential candidates to be Romney’s running mate. What is she most proud of? “I’m proud to be a mom. I love being a mom. I love that experience and watching my kids grow and learn and being a part of their lives,” she said. “Because of my kids, I’m a better representative.”
McMorris Rodgers is not the first woman to give birth while serving in national elected office—that distinction goes to former Rep. Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, D-Calif., in 1973—but she is the first woman to give birth twice as a member of Congress. Her 5-year-old son, Cole, was born with the genetic condition commonly known as Down syndrome, which gave McMorris Rodgers a new reason to advocate for people with disabilities. Her daughter, Grace, was born in December 2010.
McMorris Rodgers, 43, is in her fourth congressional term and her second term as vice chair of the House Republican Conference. She is the only woman and the youngest member of the elected House Republican leadership. Romney tapped her in May to be his eyes and ears in Congress after she endorsed him in December and agreed to help with his campaign in Washington state. “It’s just bringing some leadership in the House and unifying the members,” she said of her role with the Romney camp.
Along with Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., McMorris Rodgers led the House Republican response to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision upholding the individual mandate in President Obama’s health care law, saying that it is “still unworkable” even if it is constitutional. Romney is right in sync with that idea, she said. “He has never supported a national mandate.”
By Fawn Johnson
If you’re a conservative candidate, lobbyist, or fundraiser navigating the rules of Washington, you probably already know Cleta Mitchell’s name. Mitchell is the chairwoman of the American Conservative Union Foundation, the president of the Republican Lawyers Association, and a board member of the National Rifle Association, which she represented in a 2002 campaign finance case before the Supreme Court.
Mitchell literally wrote the book on lobbying regulations and ethics rules: Her 2008 tome was called The Lobbying Compliance Handbook. She regularly gives seminars to conservative groups on how to legally raise money and influence politicians. “Today, Cleta is one of the most knowledgeable and effective advocates in the conservative camp,” NRA President David Keene told the Leadership Institute. “She knows politics [and] the law and is fearless in her pursuit of principle.”
Mitchell, 61, works with Minnesota for Marriage and the Maryland Marriage Alliance, groups that seek to bar gay marriage in their respective states. Leading up to the November election, Mitchell is advising conservative congressional candidates as well as third-party expenditure campaigns opposing President Obama. She served in the Oklahoma House from 1976 to 1984, where she chaired the Appropriations and Budget Committee. Mitchell said that her former life as a legislator enables her to bring her legal know-how to people in politics. “I love helping other people be involved in the process,” Mitchell says.
Her transition from the floor of the Oklahoma House to the courtrooms and boardrooms of Washington also took Mitchell from one party to another. Mitchell was a Democrat in Oklahoma, something you would never guess listening to her speak about personal liberty, limited government, and how the tea party restored her faith in America. But she says she had a formative experience studying the Constitution and colonial-era laws. “One of the founding principles was limited government, and I began to realize the Democrat Party was the party of government,” Mitchell says. “I realized I was not of that mind and that a government big enough to take care of all of us is big enough to destroy anyone at anytime.”
Mitchell recently helped launch former presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s new foundation, Patriot Voices.
By Julia Edwards