President Obama proclaimed Elena Kagan's Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court an "exhilarating" sign of progress that he "relishes," as he spoke at a special White House reception in her honor on Friday afternoon.
The East Room was packed with Kagan supporters, Cabinet Secretaries, and some of Kagan's new colleagues, including Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy. As a young lawyer, Kagan clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and his widow, Cecilia Marshall, was present to see her husband's legacy live on. (Above: An official photo from the reception, released by the White House)
"For nearly two centuries, there wasn’t a single woman on the Supreme Court. When Elena was a clerk, there was just one," President Obama said. "But when she takes her seat on that bench, for the first time in history, there will be three women serving on our nation’s highest court."
That historic moment will come when the Fall Supreme Court term begins on October 4 and Kagan, 50, who was confirmed in a vote of 63 to 37 on Thursday afternoon, officially becomes the fourth female Justice to serve. She will be sworn in on Saturday by Chief Justice John Roberts, who will administer the constitutional oath during a private ceremony, and then administer the judicial oath in public. She is President Obama's second appointee to the Supreme Court in a year, and his first, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, is also a woman, and Hispanic.
"Our Supreme Court will be a little more inclusive, a little more representative, more reflective of us as a people than ever before," President Obama said, as he noted that Kagan has many supporters in high places.
"I don’t know too many folks whose fans include President Clinton, Judge Abner Mikva, and Justice Ginsburg, as well as Ken Starr, Miguel Estrada, and Justice Scalia," President Obama said.
Kagan is leaving her post as the US Solicitor General, and has no prior experience on the bench, although she has argued before the Supreme Court, and she was president of Harvard Law School. Her confirmation came amidst sharp criticism from Republicans, and both the President and Kagan thanked the Senate--in particular Judiciary Chairman Leahy--for their work in the confirmation process.
"While she may be feeling a twinge of sadness about giving up the title of “General” -- a cool title -- I think we can all agree that “Justice Elena Kagan” has a pretty nice ring to it," President Obama said.
The guests gave Kagan a standing ovation as the President introduced her, and she said that her brothers and sister-in-law, a nephew, a niece, aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as many friends had flown in to Washington as soon as they heard she had been confirmed on Thursday. She thanked them and her many Senate supporters, and also pointed out that she had met with 83 Senators during the confirmation process.
"But really who’s counting?" Kagan joked, to much laughter.
"Although my parents didn’t live to see this day, what I can almost hear them saying -- and I think I can hear Justice Marshall saying this to me right now as well -- is that this appointment is not just an honor," Kagan 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."
"The work of our highest Court shapes not just the character of our democracy, but the most fundamental aspects of our daily lives -- how we work, how we worship, whether we can speak freely and live fully, whether those words put to paper more than two centuries ago will truly mean something for each of us in our time," President Obama said.
Kagan, he added, will be faced with plenty of challenges.
"Justice Kennedy assured me that he would keep Justice Kagan out of trouble, and Justice Ginsburg assured me that she would get Justice Kagan into trouble," President Obama said, to laughter. "So we’ll see how that works out."
Below, President Obama signs Kagan's commission papers in the Oval Office, before the reception.
The full transcript of President Obama and Kagan's remarks:
THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary___________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release
August 6, 2010
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND
ELENA KAGAN AT RECEPTION
HONORING HER CONFIRMATION
ELENA KAGAN AT RECEPTION
HONORING HER CONFIRMATION
2:25 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: This is a good day. (Laughter.) Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the White House. I am pleased that all of you could be here today as we celebrate the next member of our nation’s highest court. And while she may be feeling a twinge of sadness about giving up the title of “General” -- (laughter) -- a cool title -- I think we can all agree that “Justice Elena Kagan” has a pretty nice ring to it. (Applause.)
We are very honored to be joined today by two of Elena’s new colleagues -- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Anthony Kennedy -- and we’re thankful for their presence. (Applause.) Justice Kennedy assured me that he would keep Justice Kagan out of trouble, and Justice Ginsburg assured me that she would get Justice Kagan into trouble. (Laughter.) So we’ll see how that works out. (Laughter.)
We’re also pleased to have several members of Congress, as well as our Cabinet here today; and of course members of Elena’s family. And thanks to all of you for your service and for taking time to be here today.
I also want to express my gratitude to our Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Senator Leahy; Ranking Member, Senator Sessions; Majority Leader Reid; and Republican Leader McConnell, for seeing to it that Elena got a full, fair and timely hearing.
After more than 80 one-on-one meetings and 17 hours of testimony, I’d say that the Senate got a pretty good look at Elena Kagan. They 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. (Laughter.)
The bipartisan support she received in yesterday’s vote is yet another example of the high esteem in which she’s held by folks across the political spectrum. There aren’t many law school deans who receive standing ovations from both the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society. And I don’t know too many folks whose fans include President Clinton, Judge Abner Mikva, and Justice Ginsburg, as well as Ken Starr, Miguel Estrada, and Justice Scalia.
In fact, I understand that Justice Scalia came to relish their spirited exchanges during Elena’s appearances before the Court -- even after Elena cheerfully informed him that he was, and I quote, “wrong” in his understanding of a recent case. (Laughter.) I’m sure that was refreshing for him to hear. (Laughter.)
These folks may not agree on much, but they’ve all been impressed, as I have, by Elena’s formidable intellect and path-breaking career -- as an acclaimed scholar and presidential advisor, as the first woman to serve as Dean of the Harvard Law School, and most recently as Solicitor General. They admire how, while she could easily have settled into a comfortable practice in corporate law, she chose instead to devote her life to public service. They appreciate her even-handedness and open-mindedness, and her excellent -- and often irreverent -- sense of humor.
These are traits that she happens to share with the last Solicitor General who went on to become a Supreme Court Justice -- one for whom Elena clerked, and whom she considers one of her heroes -- Justice Thurgood Marshall. And we are very proud to have Justice Marshall’s widow here today joining us. (Applause.)
In a tribute she wrote after Justice Marshall’s death, Elena recalled how she and her fellow clerks took turns standing guard when his casket lay in state at the Supreme Court -- and how 20,000 people stood in a line that stretched around the block to pay their respects. They were people from every background and every walk of life: black, white, rich and poor, young and old. Many brought their children, hoping to impress upon them the lessons of Justice Marshall’s extraordinary life. Some left notes, some left flowers. One mourner left a worn slip opinion of Brown v. Board of Education.
It is, to this day, a moving reminder that the work of our highest Court shapes not just the character of our democracy, but the most fundamental aspects of our daily lives -- how we work, how we worship, whether we can speak freely and live fully, whether those words put to paper more than two centuries ago will truly mean something for each of us in our time.
Because as visionary as our founders were, they did not presume to know exactly how the times would change and what new questions fate and history would set before us. Instead, they sought to articulate principles that would be timeless -- ones that would accommodate the changing circumstances of our lives while preserving the rights and freedoms on which this country was founded.
Today is one of those moments when you can’t help but appreciate the extraordinary success of their efforts. For nearly two centuries, there wasn’t a single woman on the Supreme Court. When Elena was a clerk, there was just one. But when she takes her seat on that bench, for the first time in history, there will be three women serving on our nation’s highest court. (Applause.)
It is, as Justice Ginsburg recently put it, “one of the most exhilarating developments” -- a sign of progress that I relish not just as a father who wants limitless possibilities for my daughters, but as an American proud that our Supreme Court will be a little more inclusive, a little more representative, more reflective of us as a people than ever before.
And it is yet another example of how our union has become more, not less, perfect over time -- more open, more fair, more free. That’s not just a matter of accident or chance. While those founding truths about liberty and equality may have been self-evident, they are not self-perpetuating. And it is the members of our highest court who do the vital and constant work of ensuring that they endure. And that's work that I am confident Elena will carry out with integrity, with humanity, and an abiding commitment to the ideal inscribed above our courthouse doors: equal justice under the law.
So it is now my great pleasure to introduce, as our next Supreme Court Justice, Elena Kagan. (Applause.)
MS. KAGAN: Thank you so much, Mr. President. Thank you for the honor you’ve given me and the trust you’ve placed in me by nominating me to the Supreme Court. I am deeply grateful.
Thank you also for lending me some of your marvelous staff since my nomination. There’s a lot of work and preparation that goes into the confirmation process. And I very much appreciate their tireless efforts. And one person deserves a special shout-out for her incomparable energy, expertise and wisdom, and that's the head of your judicial nominations team, Susan Davies. (Applause.)
I also want to thank the Judiciary Committee and the entire Senate for giving me such respectful and expeditious consideration. Chairman Leahy gave me wonderful advice throughout this process, and both he and Senator Sessions ensured that my hearing was serious and courteous. I also very much enjoyed meeting with 83 senators -- but really who’s counting? -- (laughter) -- and enjoyed learning more about their concerns, their interests, and their deep commitments to public service.
I’m delighted that many of my former colleagues from the Solicitor General’s Office are here. It’s the best law office in the country and I’ve learned every day from its members. Now, once I put on that robe, I’m only going to vote with them when they have the better of the argument, which, let’s be frank, is not in every case. (Laughter.) But I will always -- (laughter) -- but I will always appreciate their integrity and professionalism and dedication.
Finally, I want to thank my family and friends. I have a lot of family here today -- my brothers and sister-in-law, a nephew, a niece, aunts, uncles, cousins -- and I have a great many friends here as well. You came from all over the country as soon as you heard the Senate had approved my nomination. And I’m moved and deeply grateful for your support.
And all around me in this room, I feel the presence of my parents. I wouldn’t be standing here today if not for their love and sacrifice and devotion. And although my parents didn’t live to see this day, what I can almost hear them saying -- and I think I can hear Justice Marshall saying this to me right now as well -- is that this appointment is not just an honor. 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.
Tomorrow, I will take two oaths to uphold this solemn obligation: one, to support and defend the Constitution; and the other, to administer justice without respect to persons, to the rich and poor alike.
Today, Mr. President, I will simply say to you and to everyone here and across the nation that I will work my hardest and try my best to fulfill these commitments and to serve this country I love as well as I am able.
Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I told Elena to go ahead and soak it in because I'm not sure they’re allowed to clap in the Supreme Court. (Laughter.) But thank you very much for joining us, and please enjoy the reception. Thank you.
*Photo at top by Samantha Appleton/White House. Commission photo by Pete Souza/White House. White House video. Other photos by Getty.