The American Bar Association joined with the law firm Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison Davis LLP to host a conversation between the renowned constitutional attorney Nathan Lewin and American Jewish historian Dr. David G. Dalin, Ph.D., author of Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court: From Brandeis to Kagan.
Dalin’s newly-released book is the first to review the history of the eight Jewish justices born to Jewish mothers, who served and continue to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court: Louis D. Brandeis, Benjamin Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg, Abe Fortas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and Elena Kagan. Dalin discussed the justices’ connection to their Jewish identity and varying adherence to Jewish practice, and whether their Jewish upbringing or the upbringing they forsook had any impact on their jurisprudence. He also noted that the three justices currently sitting on the court never confronted anti-Semitism on their ascent to the court, nor was their religion given any emphasis during their confirmation hearings.
While Dalin shared numerous lesser-known stories of the justices, Lewin in turn shared his own and related that once a year he would have lunch with his good friend and former law school classmate, Antonin Scalia, where they would exchange a gag gift. At their last lunch, Lewin gave Scalia a red baseball hat with the Hebrew letters spelling “Harvard” on it. Later the same day, Scalia called Lewin and told him he visited Elena Kagan’s office and told her that he would give her the hat but only if she could read the Hebrew words.
Lewin exclaimed, “You gave her the hat! Of course she can read Hebrew. She was Bat Mitzvah [at Lincoln Square Synagogue]!”
Lewin said Scalia also confided to him that he had tremendous respect for Kagan and had strongly supported her candidacy as a Supreme Court justice. Lewin further said it was only due to Scalia’s high regard for Kagan that Scalia renewed his ties to Harvard after having had a tenuous relationship with their alma mater for a number of years.