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After being sworn in on Friday, Solicitor General Elena Kagan was formally presented to the Supreme Court Monday morning in a brief but historic ceremony. Kagan is the first woman to hold the position.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. began by summoning Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler to the lectern. Noting that Kneedler had served as acting solicitor general between Jan. 20 and last Friday, Roberts said the Court joined him in thanking the veteran career deputy for "a job well done." Kneedler thanked Roberts and said he had "the honor to present" Kagan to the Court. Roberts, who swore in Kagan Friday at a closed ceremony in his chambers, greeted her as she reached the lectern and said, "We wish you well." Kagan responded it will be "an honor to serve."
When Kagan entered the Supreme Court chamber before the session began, she smiled broadly. Sitting with Kneedler, she cheerily pointed at different parts of the Court chamber, seemingly asking Kneedler about the surroundings. After the ceremony, Kagan and Kneedler stayed in the Court as spectators for the only case argued Monday -- Yeager v. United States, a post-Enron criminal case involving tricky double jeopardy issues. Veteran criminal defense lawyer Samuel Buffone of Ropes & Gray squared off against Michael Dreeben, the longtime criminal law specialist in the SG's office. The justices kept both advocates on their toes, and it was not clear which side would win. Kagan's demeanor turned decidedly more serious as she watched. Her new life had begun.
Footnote: Ordinarily, what a solicitor general wears would not be noteworthy, in part because traditionally, members of the SG's office almost always wear the same thing: a dark swallowtail morning coat, with dark pants, white shirt, tie and vest. Such attire is optional for women in the SG's office; some wear the morning coat with pants, some with skirts, and some don't don the morning coat at all, opting instead for dark business suits. Kagan was wearing a black pantsuit this morning -- not the traditional garb -- and some believe she will let the morning coat tradition fade into history.
But what Kagan wore Monday is not dispositive. Women who wear the morning coat buy a man's coat -- and usually pants as well -- and have them tailored to fit, a process that can take time. At Scogna Formal Wear in D.C., which has supplied morning coats to D.C. lawyers and Court officials for decades, an employee who answered the phone said, "We do whatever is needed to accommodate the customer" when asked about morning coats for women.
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.