- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan said Wednesday she stands “on the shoulders” of the women who came before her on the court.

Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and current Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg built legal careers at a time when doors were often shut to women in the field, even after they graduated at the top of their classes, Kagan said during remarks at Ohio State University.

By contrast, it was easier for Kagan to rise through the ranks, including clerking for the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and stints as dean of Harvard Law School and as the first female U.S. Solicitor General, she said.

“I really feel that I stand on the shoulders of people like Justice O’Connor and Justice Ginsburg, and my life was so much easier because of what they did,” said Kagan, the court’s fourth female justice, after Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Kagan, 55, talked about the value of hearing out her fellow justices, her reluctance to allow cameras in the court and her scariest moment as solicitor general. She shared these stories in an hourlong conversation with Ohio State law school dean Alan Michaels, a fellow New Yorker who clerked at the Supreme Court at the same time as Kagan.

Kagan’s scariest moment came as she made her first-ever appearance before the court when, as solicitor general in 2009, she prepared to argue for the government in what would be the losing side in the court’s Citizens United campaign-finance decision. She said she was up against lawyers with multiple appearances before the court, and she became more and more nervous.

Only a sentence into her opening argument, Justice Antonin Scalia interrupted by leaning forward and saying, “No, no, no, no, no,” Kagan said, to laughter.

“It was actually the best thing that could ever have happened to me,” she said, noting that she relaxed after the interruption.

In the January 2010 Citizens United decision, the justices ruled 5-4 to strike down the ban on corporate and union spending in elections.

Kagan said the court is filled with people with strong opinions, including herself, but she does her best to listen to all sides. More than once, she said, she has entered the court’s conference room with one opinion and found herself considering other options after hearing people out. She always speaks last in those meetings, she said.

Kagan said she sees both sides of the argument over allowing cameras in the courtroom, but continues to err on the side of keeping them out. A chief concern is that cameras will draw attention to the court’s oral arguments at the expense of all the other work the justices do in deciding a case, she said.

“In some ways it’s highlighting a part of the process that is of pretty low rank in terms of what people should care about, which is why we’re reaching the decisions that we reach,” she said.

Kagan declined Michaels’ invitation to provide any insights into court action on upcoming cases. She also declined to describe her judicial philosophy.

“It’s too soon,” she said.


This story has been updated to correct the spelling in the second reference to Ginsburg.

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