Elena Kagan Wore a Judge’s Robe in Her Yearbook


You always hear childhood acquaintances of exceptionally successful people say things like, "Even back then, we always knew he would be president," or, "I'm not surprised at all that he became a billionaire." The same holds true for Elena Kagan, who grew up on 75th and West End Avenue on the Upper West Side and was a standout at Hunter College High School (which we personally think is a confusing name for a high school).

Even as a teenager, Ms. Kagan struck her peers and teachers as someone who was bound for greatness, demonstrating an interest in constitutional issues and displaying qualities that made her well suited for a career in the law.

“Honestly, if you had asked us back then who among you would be a Supreme Court justice some day, she’d certainly be on the short list,” [classmate Ellen] Purtell said. “She was always very thoughtful, deliberate and focused and got along with everyone without any drama. Everybody liked her.”

Usually we take such sentiments with a grain of salt — that she's a Supreme Court nominee now probably colors one's memory a little bit. We're sure there were people at Hunter who were also "very thoughtful, deliberate, and focused and got along with everyone without any drama" and turned out to be heroin addicts. But in Kagan's case, we don't doubt that people could have seen the high court in her future. Because she forced them to.

Although there was nothing judicial about the student government, in her senior yearbook Ms. Kagan, in wire-rimmed aviator glasses and long hair, is pictured on the group’s page wearing a judge’s robe, gavel in hand. Underneath is a quotation from Justice Frankfurter, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Government,” it reads, “is itself an art, one of the subtlest of arts.”

And in case that wasn't obvious enough:

At least one classmate there, Natalie Bowden, remembers she had an ambitious goal: to become a Supreme Court justice.

“That was a goal from the very beginning,” Ms. Bowden said. “She did talk about it then.”

A Climb Marked by Confidence and Canniness [NYT]