It's official: Elena Kagan is a Supreme Court justice

Elena Kagan, President Obama's second appointment to the US Supreme Court, was sworn in Saturday as an associate justice. Which cases will she hear first?

By , Staff writer

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    Elena Kagan is sworn in as the Supreme Court's newest member as Chief Justice John Roberts, right, administers the judicial oath, at the Supreme Court in Washington. The Bible is held by Jeffrey Minear, center, counselor to the chief justice.
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Elena Kagan officially became a US Supreme Court justice Saturday, swearing an oath – two oaths, actually – to uphold the US Constitution and to “administer justice without respect to persons.”

She is President Obama’s second Supreme Court appointee and the fourth woman ever to serve on the highest court in the land.

Ms. Kagan, who most recently held the post of US solicitor general, was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts at the Supreme Court. During the televised portion of the ceremony, she stood before a cavernous fireplace in the court’s West Conference Room and, her right hand raised, took the judicial oath, pledging to “faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties” of an associate justice.

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Minutes earlier, in a small private gathering in the room where the justices deliberate and vote, Kagan had recited the so-called constitutional oath. Required of all federal employees (except the president, who utters words specifically written in the Constitution for that office), the oath is as follows:

“I, _________, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Where new justices take their oaths is a matter of choice. The chief justice, for instance, was sworn in at the White House, as were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, and Sonia Sotomayor held their ceremonies at the high court. Sometimes expediency prevails: Justice Stephen Breyer took his oaths in August 1994 in Greensboro, Vt., accommodating then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who had a vacation home in the area.

When the next court term begins Oct. 4, Kagan and her colleagues on the bench will immediately hear arguments in several high-profile cases.

Among cases on the docket in the first two weeks is one concerning the Westboro Baptist Church’s controversial protests at funerals of American military personnel. Albert Snyder, the father of a marine killed in Iraq in 2006, sued the Christian fundamentalist group for invasion of privacy and emotional distress after its members demonstrated at his son’s funeral. The group appears at military funerals in a bid to win attention for its vehemently antihomosexual, antigovernment message.

Other early cases take up the legal rights of parents to sue manufacturers when their children are injured by vaccines, government background checks for NASA contractors that the workers say intrude unnecessarily on their privacy in the name of national security, and the application of mandatory minimum-sentencing laws for criminal offenders.

Kagan, the first woman to serve as dean of Harvard Law School, is the 112th justice of the US Supreme Court. New York-born, Princeton- and Harvard-educated, Jewish, and single, she was nominated to the Supreme Court by Mr. Obama on May 10. The Senate confirmed her appointment on Aug. 5, 63 to 37. She has served as a clerk for judges, including former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, but has never herself sat on the bench.

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