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3 women on high court: Historic but impact unclear

WASHINGTON — At least once a term for 13 years, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recalled, some lawyer arguing before the Supreme Court would mistake her for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, or vice versa.

No matter that Brooklyn-born Ginsburg and O'Connor, raised on a ranch in Arizona, look and sound nothing alike.

The confusion arose because, even at the dawn of the 21st century, women on the court were "one- or two-at-a-time curiosities," Ginsburg said.

So she considered it progress that no one made that error after Sonia Sotomayor became a Supreme Court justice last year.

Now with Elena Kagan joining them on the bench for the start of the high court term in October, Ginsburg, 77, perceives an even bigger change. Kagan, 50, was sworn in Saturday by Chief Justice John Roberts.

"We are one-third of this court," Ginsburg said. No longer a momentous event, the appointment of a woman to the high court has become, Ginsburg said, "expectable."

"I don't think anybody's going to confuse Justice Kagan, Justice Ginsburg or Justice Sotomayor," she said.

But having three women on the court may not change the outcome of any cases. The justices, after all, regularly divide 5-4 along ideological lines in high-profile cases. Sotomayor's votes in her first year were very similar to Justice David Souter's, the man she replaced. Kagan is expected to vote much like Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired in June.

"Having this seat occupied by a woman does not in and of itself change the way this justice votes," said Vanderbilt University law professor Tracey George.

Academic studies have so far found just one area, sex discrimination lawsuits, in which the presence of a woman on a panel of federal appeals court judges appears to make a difference.

Ginsburg suggested that women were more likely to add a measure of civility to the court's work.

She is fond of her service with O'Connor, who retired in 2006. In disagreeing on some major issues, they showed that women "come in all sizes and shapes just like men do," Ginsburg said.

Kagan sworn in by Chief Justice Roberts

Elena Kagan was sworn in Saturday as the 112th justice and fourth woman ever to serve on the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath to Kagan in a brief private ceremony at the court. Kagan, joined by family and friends, pledged to faithfully and impartially uphold the law.

Afterward, she smiled broadly as a crowd of onlookers stood and applauded. "We look forward to serving with you," Roberts said.

Kagan, a former Harvard Law School dean who most recently was solicitor general, was President Barack Obama's choice to succeed retired Justice John Paul Stevens. The Senate confirmed her this past week on a vote of 63-37.

Kagan won't be formally installed as a justice until Oct. 1 in a courtroom ceremony at the start of the court's new term. But after the oaths taken on Saturday, she may begin assuming her duties as a justice, which include reviewing cases and emergency appeals filed to the Supreme Court.

Associated Press

3 women on high court: Historic but impact unclear 08/07/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 7, 2010 11:15pm]
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