Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.
(photo credit: US SUPREME COURT)
In a recent decision, US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan inducted herself into the Jewish judges hall of fame with a rousing retelling of one of the first interactions between George Washington and the Jews of the US.
She quoted Moses Seixas of Newport, Rhode Island, who thanked Washington in 1790 with “a deep sense of gratitude” for the new American government, “a government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance, but generously affording to all liberty of conscience, and immunities of citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever nation, tongue, or language, equal parts of the great governmental machine.”
The quote was used to explain the importance of the government not showing a preference for a particular religion in a 5-4 dissent against a decision by the court on separation between “church and state,” which allowed a primarily Christian town to start its meetings with a prayer.
In keeping with that ruling, Kagan angered many Jewish groups when she not only stood in the majority, but also wrote emphatically against allowing Menachem Zivitofsky to put Israel on his passport as his place of birth, due to the disputed status of Jerusalem.
She has also become famous for writing a “Spiderman” decision, in which she used Spiderman terminology to juice up one of her rulings.
Kagan, 56, was raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and attended Princeton, Oxford and Harvard. In 2009, Kagan became the first woman to serve as US Solicitor General and, in 2010, the fourth female US Supreme Court justice.
Kagan is not the only justice making headlines.
In July, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg started a firestorm over her intense condemnations of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and her clear implied preference for Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton.
Ginsburg said a Trump presidency would be so bad that she didn’t “even want to contemplate that,” and made a joke about moving to New Zealand.
In 2015, Ginsburg made it into the news when she “took off the gloves” (she also made waves in a photograph of her donning black fishnet gloves, which she placed around her mouth in a pose reminiscent of Dr. Evil) and “eviscerated” same-sex marriage opponents in court. Ginsburg walloped lawyers fighting same-sex marriage, firmly placing the rights of homosexuals as a civil rights and discrimination issue in a much less apologetic way than anyone had to date.
In 2016, Ginsburg was with the majority in decisions strengthening abortion rights, such as fighting against requirements that abortion providers have admitting privileges at specific local hospitals, and striking down gun ownership rights for domestic violence convicts even if the misdemeanor is only the result of recklessness, rather than intent.
Ginsburg, 83, was appointed to the court in 1993. In 1996, she ordered the Virginia Military Institute to open its doors to women, despite its argument that the unique requirements and physical training made it unsuitable for women, marking a career as one of the most prominent advocates for women’s rights. Despite having significant health problems, she has refused pleas by Democrats to retire in time for US President Barack Obama to appoint a replacement with similar liberal values before he leaves office..