During Special Supreme Court Sitting, Justice Elena Kagan Formally Sworn In : The Two-Way For the first time in history, there are three women on the high court. President Obama, who attended the official investiture ceremony, whispered to retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, "Now there are three of you."
NPR logo During Special Supreme Court Sitting, Justice Elena Kagan Formally Sworn In

During Special Supreme Court Sitting, Justice Elena Kagan Formally Sworn In

Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, with Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan, today. Steve Petteway/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States hide caption

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Steve Petteway/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

For the first time today, three women sat on the U.S. Supreme Court bench.

The occasion was the formal investiture of new Justice Elena Kagan. Although Kagan has been on the job since early August when she was sworn in during a private ceremony at the court, today was the public ceremony, with President Obama and all three retired Supreme Court justices in attendance.

The historic significance of the occasion was not lost on either the president or retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who, in 1981, was the first woman appointed to the court.

Before he left the courtroom, the president leaned over to O'Connor, shook her hand, and whispered,  "Now there are three of you." O'Connor beamed, later telling friends that the women "looked pretty good sitting up there."

The ceremony was short and traditional. Justice Kagan sat in the chair used in the early nineteenth century by the nation's most famous chief justice, John Marshall.

Attorney General Eric Holder then formally presented her commission, signed by the President. Kagan was escorted up to the bench. Chief Justice John Roberts administered the judicial oath, Kagan then took her seat at the far right, and the session was gaveled to a close. The chief justice and Kagan then went outside to pose for pictures.

There was one switch in the ceremony. Until now, the Chief Justice has always introduced the new justice by noting that he or she is the newest member of the court — in this case it would have been the one-hundred-and-twelfth justice. But Chief Justice Roberts chose to differentiate between chief justices and other court members, introducing Kagan as "the one-hundredth associate justice."

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. and Justice Elena Kagan pose at the top of the steps following her formal investiture ceremony. Steve Petteway/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States hide caption

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Steve Petteway/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

For some sticklers those words make a difference because the chief justice is considered the first among equals, while today's introduction seemed to carve out a difference in status.