Elena Kagan: Before the Supreme Court
Prior to her nomination to the Supreme Court, Kagan worked as associate White House Counsel for President Bill Clinton from 1995 to 1996, as deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy, and as deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council. In the latter role, Kagan co-wrote a memo asking that Clinton back a ban on late-term abortions.
After returning to academia for a decade, Kagan was nominated to the position of solicitor general by Barack Obama, and became the first woman in the role. Though considered to be part of the liberal wing of the SCOTUS, Kagan veers on the moderate side. Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court in 2010, and she was confirmed the same year.
Sonia Sotomayor: Education
The first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor earned an undergraduate degree from Princeton, where she co-chaired the Puerto Rican activist group Acción Puertorriqueña. As part of this group, she accused the Princeton administration of bias against Puerto Ricans in their hiring process. In the same vein of Puerto Rican rights, she also wrote a senior thesis on Puerto Rican journalist Luis Muñoz Marín. In pursuing her J.D. from Yale, she was editor of the Yale Law Review and published a notable article on how statehood would impact Puerto Rico's mineral rights.
Sonia Sotomayor: Early career life
Freshly out of law school in 1979, Sotomayor landed a position as an assistant district attorney under New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. In the wake of rampant New York crime rates, she dealt with substantial caseloads including shoplifting, police brutality, and murder. In terms of serious felonies, Sotomayor said, "No matter how liberal I am, I am still outraged by crimes of violence," especially for violent crime within the Hispanic community.
In her role as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, she took anti-government stances in numerous cases and was known for administering heavy sentences in criminal cases. In the notable case Silverman v. Major League Baseball Player Relations Committee, Inc., Sotomayor’s preliminary injunction against Major League Baseball barred it from executing a new collective bargaining agreement, thus putting a stop to the months-long 1994 baseball strike.
Sonia Sotomayor: Before the Supreme Court
In 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated Sotomayor to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. However, Senate Republicans delayed her confirmation process because they believed that Clinton had an ulterior motive of positioning her for a Supreme Court nomination as the first Hispanic judge. Sotomayor was confirmed to the Court of Appeals in 1998.
As a judge, she was described as a centrist by the ABA Journal. As a member of the Second Circuit Task Force on Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts, Sotomayor presented the annual Judge Mario G. Olmos Memorial Lecture at the University of California, Berkeley in 2001, in which she talked in part about the history of women and minorities who rose to become federal judges.
In the 2002 abortion case Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v. Bush, Sotomayor defended the Bush administration’s enactment of the Mexico City Policy, detailing that the U.S. would refrain from subsidizing nongovernmental organizations that perform or advocate for abortions in other countries. President Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor to the Supreme Court in 2009, and she was confirmed the same year.
Clarence Thomas: Education
Clarence Thomas earned a B.A. in English from the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, where he helped create the Black Student Union. He obtained a J.D. from Yale in 1974, though law firms did not take his degree seriously when he was applying for jobs. He cited that law firms assumed that he got into the program because of the law school’s increase in its quota of black students, and thus put less weight on LSAT scores and grades for those students.
Clarence Thomas: Early career life
After his admittance to the Missouri Bar in 1974, Thomas worked as assistant attorney general of Missouri under state Attorney General John Danforth, and was the only African American on Danforth’s staff. After changing roles when Danforth was elected to the Senate in 1976, Thomas returned to work for him in the late ‘70s as a legislative assistant focusing on energy issues for the Senate Commerce Committee. Danforth would play an important role in endorsing Thomas as a Supreme Court justice.
In the early 1980s, Thomas took on the role of assistant secretary of education for the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education, and then as chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1982 to 1990. In the latter role, Thomas sought cases of individual discrimination rather than adhere to the commission’s habitual method of filing class-action discrimination lawsuits. He opined that black leaders were all talk and no action in terms of the Reagan administration’s shortcomings, and that they should have collaborated with the federal government to improve issues such as illiteracy and teen pregnancy.
Clarence Thomas: Before the Supreme Court
President George H. W. Bush nominated Thomas to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 1989, despite Thomas having said he did not want to be a judge. Nevertheless, other African Americans working in government backed him, including Secretary of Transportation William Coleman. In 1991, shortly after Thurgood Marshall declared that he’d be retiring, President Bush nominated Thomas to replace him on the Supreme Court.
Some civil rights and feminist organizations were against Thomas' appointment due in part to his condemnation of affirmative action, as well as apprehensions that he might have been against Roe v. Wade. After Thomas’ confirmation hearings ended, but before the Senate officially approved his nomination, Anita Hill accused Thomas of verbal sexual harassment in a leaked FBI interview. In reopened hearings, Thomas denied the allegations and maintained his right to privacy. The Judiciary Committee voted to send Thomas’ nomination to the Senate, and after further investigation with no substantial evidence of sexual harassment, the Senate confirmed Thomas to the Supreme Court in October 1991.
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