Supreme Court Nominations

An Intellectual Kagan Had Supreme Court Ambitions in High School, Classmate Says


A classmate who attended high school in the 1970s with Solicitor General Elena Kagan says she had an ambitious goal at the time: to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Natalie Bowden was a classmate at Hunter College High School, where students gained admission on the basis of an entrance exam, the New York Times reports. Being a justice “was a goal from the very beginning,” Bowden told the Times. “She did talk about it then.”

Kagan was “cocky (or perhaps prescient) enough” to pose for her high school yearbook holding a gavel and wearing a judge’s robe, the Times says. The photo appeared on a page for the Government Organization, the student government group that Kagan headed. Underneath her photo was a quote from Justice Felix Frankfurter that read, “Government is itself an art, one of the subtlest of arts.”

President Obama is expected to nominate Kagan today to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

Kagan’s mother had been a schoolteacher and her father was a lawyer who represented tenant associations in battles over the conversion of their rental apartments to co-ops. Her older and younger brothers are also schoolteachers.

The Times begins its profile of Kagan this way: “She was a creature of Manhattan’s liberal, intellectual Upper West Side—a smart, witty girl who was bold enough at 13 to challenge her family’s rabbi over her bat mitzvah, cocky (or perhaps prescient) enough at 17 to pose for her high school yearbook in a judge’s robe. …

“She was the razor-sharp newspaper editor and history major at Princeton who examined American socialism, and the Supreme Court clerk for a legal giant, Thurgood Marshall, who nicknamed her ‘Shorty.’ She was the reformed teenage smoker who confessed to the occasional cigar as she fought Big Tobacco for the Clinton administration, and the literature lover who reread Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice every year.

“She was the opera-loving, poker-playing, glass-ceiling-shattering first woman to be dean of Harvard Law School, where she reached out to conservatives (she once held a dinner to honor Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia) and healed bitter rifts on the faculty with gestures as simple as offering professors free lunch, just to get them talking.”

A Wall Street Journal story on Kagan says she “personifies the East Coast elite” because of her Manhattan upbringing and Ivy League background. “But she has also shown a popular touch in rising to the top as a law-school administrator and government official,” its story says. Kagan is single and has no children, according to the story.

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