Elena Kagan's position as the third female justice seated on the U.S. Supreme Court is just one of many historic "firsts" she's achieved in her lifetime. These include her serving as the first female Dean of Harvard Law School and the first female U.S. Solicitor General. But this is hardly surprising when you consider that in a high school yearbook photo, she chose to wear a judge's robe.
The only daughter of an attorney and a teacher, early on Kagan showed a fearlessness in fighting for gender equity when she challenged the rabbi at her temple and insisted on having a bat mitzvah, a coming of age religious ceremony for girls. Her self-confidence was an asset when she left home to attend Princeton as one of its youngest students. All this before she turned 18.
Soon after Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court, former classmate Beth Harpaz (now an Associated Press reporter) got in touch with other Hunter High School students and asked about their memories of Kagan. She was not a classmate they were likely to forget. As student body president in her senior year, she appeared in one photo black-robed and holding a gavel. And if that wasn't indication enough of her career aspirations, her senior portrait was accompanied by a quote from Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter: "Government is itself an art, one of the subtlest of the arts."
When Elena Kagan was nominated, much was made of the fact that if confirmed, she'd be the youngest Supreme Court justice on the bench. But New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd also noted that Kagan, being unmarried at 50, was also the target of much rumor and speculation -- something that would not have happened to a single male Supreme Court nominee.
A Senate confirmation hearing is grueling enough. But for three days, Elena Kagan endured endless questions and analysis of her legal positions...and a thorough grilling on her opinions regarding abortion. Yet she sailed through with flying colors and had the grace to call it "a great moment in my life."
Despite the protests of anti-abortion activists holding signs on the steps of the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan's nomination passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 13-6 vote (split along party lines with one Republican crossover.) The one final step left in the process -- confirmation by the full Senate.
On August 5, 2010, the Supreme Court took a giant leap forward and became one-third female with the Senate confirmation of Elena Kagan as the 112th justice and the fourth woman confirmed. By joining Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, she becomes the groundbreaking third woman to sit on the bench.
As the newest Justice, she occupied the far right chair on the Supreme Court as tradition dictates. But there was nothing else that was traditional about Elena Kagan's first week on the Supreme Court. Her presence made the 9-member Court fully one-third female, and as several newspapers reported, she seemed right at home on the Supreme Court and at ease in her new job.