Regardless of your political persuasion, the fact that Elena Kagan has been sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice this week is a noteworthy event. She is only the fourth female Justice in the Court's history, and for the first time ever there are now three female Justices. Kagan is the eighth Jewish Justice to be appointed to the highest court in the land.
Elena Kagan began displaying traits of a Self-Empowered Woman from an early age. She was the middle of three children (the only daughter), and her mother taught fifth and sixth grade at Hunter College Elementary School and her father was an attorney.
Independent and strong-willed as a girl, Kagan went toe-to-toe with her family's Orthodox rabbi over the details of her bat mitzvah because she felt that it was no less important than the ritual bar mitzvah (5: Life is Not a Popularity Contest).
Kagan also had a clear idea of how she wanted her life to unfold. In the 1977 Hunter College High School yearbook, she is pictured wearing a judge's robe and holding a gavel, and one of her classmates remembered that her goal was to become a Supreme Court Justice (2: An Early Sense of Direction).
She attended Princeton University, where she majored in history, and in 1981 she graduated summa cum laude (10: The Critic Within). Her perfectionism continued when she attended Worcester College, Oxford University where she earned a Masters of Philosophy and when she graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude. Her father, who had earned his law degree at Yale was deeply disappointed that she chose Harvard over his alma mater (17: Dreaming Your Own Dream).
When Kagan joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1991, she immediately became popular with her students. Several faculty members felt that she had not published enough to gain tenure, but it was awarded in 1995 (8: Turning No Into Yes).
Soon Kagan was lured to Washington to work in the Clinton White House, even though she would risk losing her teaching position and tenure if she stayed more than two years - which she did (11: Risk Addiction).
After leaving Washington, Kagan became a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and in 2001 she was named full professor. Two years later she was named the first-ever female Dean of the law school.
In January, 2009 President Obama nominated Kagan to be Solicitor General even though she had never argued a case at trial or appeared before the Supreme Court. Again, she was the first woman to hold this post and some critics questioned her experience. Fifteen months later she was nominated to fill the seat of Justice John Paul Stevens, and last week her nomination was confirmed by a vote of 63 - 37. Kagan is the first Justice in almost 40 years with no prior experience as a judge - William Rehnquist in 1972 was the other (13: More Than Meets the Eye)..
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