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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan

On good days, the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall would call his then-clerk Elena Kagan “shorty.” But when Kagan messed up or disappointed her boss, he would call her “knucklehead.”

Speaking Tuesday night at an event marking the 50th anniversary of Marshall’s ascension to the high court, now-Justice Kagan and three other former Marshall clerks offered their recollections of their year with the man who has been hailed as the most important lawyer of the 20th century. He died in 1993.

“His voice in my head never went away,” Kagan said, recalling her stint as a Marshall clerk from 1987 to 1988. “You couldn’t survive a year in his chambers without realizing that there were things you know nothing about.”

Thurgood Marshall in 1967

A highlight of the program, sponsored by the Supreme Court Historical Society, came when Kagan described two cases she worked on during her year with Marshall. Former clerks don’t always publicly discuss details of internal deliberations, but Kagan was at ease doing so, providing a rare window into how she may handle cases as a justice herself.

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Tony Mauro

Tony Mauro, based in Washington, covers the U.S. Supreme Court. A lead writer for ALM's Supreme Court Brief, Tony focuses on the court's history and traditions, appellate advocacy and the SCOTUS cases that matter most to business litigators. Contact him at [email protected] On Twitter: @Tonymauro

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