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Elena Kagan on rare path: first a Supreme Court clerk, later a justice

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Jim Young/Reuters

(Read caption) Members of the US Supreme Court pose for a portrait in 2009. If confirmed, Elena Kagan would become the sixth former Supreme Court clerk to later become a Supreme Court justice.

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Being selected to work as a law clerk for a US Supreme Court justice is one of the highest honors a recent law school graduate can attain.

The justices search for the best and brightest legal minds to staff their chambers from year to year. But, surprisingly, only a handful of these clerks have gone on to serve on the high court themselves.

If, as expected, the Senate votes to confirm Elena Kagan to a seat on the US Supreme Court, she will become only the sixth former Supreme Court law clerk to rise to become a justice. Kagan worked as a clerk for Thurgood Marshall in the 1987-88 term.

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The others are Chief Justice John Roberts, who clerked for William Rehnquist in the 1980-81 term; Justice Stephen Breyer, who clerked for Arthur Goldberg in the 1964-65 term; and recently retired John Paul Stevens, who clerked for Wiley Rutledge in the 1947-48 term.

In addition, Rehnquist clerked for Robert Jackson in the 1952-53 term, and Byron White clerked for Frederick Vinson in the 1946-47 term.

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