Kagan celebrates swearing-in

50-year-old becomes third sitting Jewish US Supreme Court judge.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
August 8, 2010 00:02
3 minute read.
Elena Kagan is sworn in as the Supreme Court's newest member

kagan sworn in 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama celebrated Elena Kagan’s confirmation to the Supreme Court on Friday with a White House reception in her honor, ahead of her swearing-in on Saturday.

Obama said that during the confirmation hearings this month, US senators “got a good sense of her judicial philosophy, her commitment to the rule of law, her rich understanding of our Constitution – and, of course, where she can be found on Christmas Day.”

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The reference, which elicited laughter from those at the reception, was to a response Kagan gave Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) when asked where she had been on Christmas Day last year, in connection with that day’s failed terrorist attack over Detroit.

“Like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant,” she had quipped.

During Friday’s reception, she emphasized the role her parents played in helping her reach the Supreme Court, only the fourth women to do so. She will be a precedentsetting third sitting Jewish justice.

“Although my parents didn’t live to see this day, what I can almost hear them saying... is that this appointment is not just an honor,” she said. “Much more importantly, it is an obligation – an obligation to protect and preserve the rule of law in this country; an obligation to uphold the rights and liberties afforded by our remarkable Constitution; and an obligation to provide what the inscription on the Supreme Court building promises: equal justice under law.”

Members of the Jewish community warmly welcomed her confirmation, which came in a 63-37 Senate vote on Thursday.

“This is a gratifying day for the Jewish community, and as a fellow Jewish person I am very proud to see her become the fourth woman to sit on the Supreme Court,” New York Democrat Rep. Elliot Engel declared in a statement shortly after Kagan’s confirmation.

He was joined by colleagues and heads of Jewish organizations in applauding her confirmation.

Every Democrat save one approved Obama’s nominee, with five Republicans also backing the former Harvard Law School dean.

Kagan, 50, who was the US solicitor-general when she was nominated and had worked in the Clinton administration, grew up in New York and clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall after graduating from law school.

“Throughout her distinguished career as solicitorgeneral, dean of Harvard Law School and as a legal scholar, Kagan has exceeded in learning, teaching and implementing the rule of law,” B’nai B’rith said in a statement.

“The grandchild of immigrants, Kagan will bring a unique yet familiar history to the nation’s highest court.”

Kagan, who replaces retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, one of the most liberal justices, is not expected to significantly change the ideological make-up of the court.

But Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, pointed out that the Supreme Court touches on key issues including freedom of religion, freedom of speech and preserving civil rights, and that “the appointment of any Supreme Court justice to a lifetime position will directly influence federal law in these areas for decades.”

He noted that the Religious Action Center worked closely with Kagan “on an array of religious freedom, civil rights and women’s rights issues” while she worked at the Clinton White House.

“We found her to be passionate in her commitment to constitutional rights and wise in her strategic judgment,” Pelavin said. “We know that her wit, intellect and experience will serve her well as she takes on the awesome responsibility of pursuing justice in our nation’s highest court.”


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