Our series of profiles of possible Supreme Court nominees to replace the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens continues with the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano.

After finishing at the top of her class at Santa Clara University — earning a Truman Scholarship and graduating summa cum laude with Phi Beta Kappa honors — Napolitano attended the University of Virginia Law School. After clerking for Ninth Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder, Napolitano began ten years in private practice in Phoenix. While in private practice, Napolitano was part of the team representing Anita Hill in connection with her testimony at Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings. She also participated in the briefing in Air Line Pilots Ass’n v. O’Neill499 US 65 (1991), which involved the standards applicable to determining whether a union has breached its duty of fair representation.

Napolitano’s public career began in 1993, when President Clinton appointed her United States Attorney for Arizona. During her five years in that position, she prosecuted over 6,000 immigration cases and made cross-border crime a priority. Napolitano also led the investigation of Michael Fortier in connection with the Oklahoma City bombing.

She was elected state Attorney General in 1998. During her four years in that position, she focused on consumer protection. A defender of the death penalty, Napolitano argued Ring v. Arizona, 536 US 584 (2002), where the Supreme Court held that permitting judges to determine the facts necessary to qualify a defendant for the death penalty violated the Sixth Amendment.

In 2002, Napolitano was narrowly elected Governor. In her first month, Napolitano proposed a budget eliminating a $1 billion budget surplus without tax increases. During her two terms, Napolitano:

  • Focused on immigration issues, ordering the National Guard to the Mexican border and significantly toughening sanctions on employers for hiring undocumented workers;
  • Promoted a prescription drug plan and improved care in long-term living facilities for seniors;
  • Championed education reform, including voluntary full-day kindergarten programs; and
  • Reformed the state’s Child Protective Services.

When Napolitano proposed giving a children’s book to every first-grader in Arizona, rather than funding the program through the state budget, she spent three years raising nearly a half-million dollars in private funds to make the program possible.

In 2005, Time named Napolitano one of America’s Five Best Governors.  A year later, Napolitano was named by the White House Project as one of the eight women most likely to become the first female President.  Napolitano served as Chair of the National Governors Association from 2006 to 2007.  She was confirmed as the first woman Secretary of Homeland Security in January 2009. Secretary Napolitano’s experience as a prosecutor and government official, dealing with the practical impact of the law on everyday lives, places her among the President’s potential Supreme Court nominees from outside the realms of the Federal appellate courts and academia.