The US Senate approved on Thursday the nomination of Justice Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court by a vote of 63-37. Kagan, who is Jewish, is the former dean of Harvard Law school dean and the fourth female justice in US history. She was nominated by President Barack Obama.
Kagan’s appointment means that for the first time, the nine-member US Supreme Court will have three women. Kagan was preceded in the court by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Kagan’s nomination was harshly criticized by the Rabbinical Alliance of America, which represents 850 Orthodox Rabbis. In a statement issued on behalf of the Alliance, Rabbi Yehuda Levin said at the end of June: “Ms. Kagan is non-kosher – not fit to serve on the Supreme Court or any other court. It is clear from Ms. Kagan’s record on issues such as abortion-on-demand, partial-birth-abortion, the radical homosexual and lesbian agenda, the ‘supremacy’ of the anti-family panoply over religious liberties of Biblical adherents, et al., that she will function as a flame-throwing radical, hastening society’s already steep decline into Sodom and Gommorah.”
Kagan is the daughter of a former member family of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, and now describes herself as a Conservative Jew.
Comments she made in 2006 in praise of Israeli Chief Justice Aharon Barak, referring to him as her “judicial hero” and saying he was the judge who “best represents and has best advanced the values of democracy and human rights, of the rule of law and of justice”, were also cited as reasons not to approve her nomination.
“We feel that Elena Kagan turns traditional Judaism on its head–from a concept of a nation of priests and holy people, she is turning it into, ‘Let’s homosexualize every segment of society. And by the way, partial-birth babies have no right to be delivered,’” said Levin at the time of the nomination.
However, Thursday’s approval of the appointment received praise from leaders in the American Jewish community.
The B’nai B’rith International organization said in a statement: “Throughout her distinguished career as solicitor general, dean of Harvard Law School, and as a legal scholar, Kagan has exceeded in learning, teaching, and implementing the rule of law. The grandchild of immigrants, Kagan will bring a unique yet familiar history to the nation’s highest court”.
Eliot Engel, a Democratic congressman from New York said that “this is a superb day for women, for Jewish people, for New York City and for the United States of America.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, was quoted in Bloomberg as saying after the appointment: “No one can question the intelligence or achievements of this woman. No one should question her character either.”
He added that Kagan has “earned her place at the top of the legal profession” and said that her background as a Supreme Court law clerk, and her work in the Senate and in the Clinton and Obama administrations gives her “experience in all three branches of our government. This is unique.”
President Obama responded to the approval in a brief statement from Chicago, saying: “I am confident that Elena Kagan will make an outstanding Supreme Court justice.”