A Justice Story

The world has changed since New York was the nation’s political epicenter, producing presidential nominees in every national election from 1928 to 1948. The state long ago ceded raw political power to the Sunbelt in general and California in particular, content to serve as the political system’s all-important source of campaign cash.

Pundits and political observers who routinely describe New York as little more than an ATM machine for national candidates clearly have overlooked another source of New York’s power—the power of ideas, expressed by talented women who grew up in a city that nurtured their creativity and ambition.

President Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan has been interpreted as another victory for women in government and politics.

And so it is—if confirmed, Ms. Kagan will be the third woman on the nation’s highest court. That’s never happened before.
She also would be the third New York woman on the court. Ms. Kagan was brought up on the Upper West Side and educated at Hunter College High School. If confirmed, she would join fellow New Yorkers Sonia Sotomayor, a native of the Bronx, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was born in Brooklyn. (A fourth justice, Antonin Scalia, moved to New York with his family when he was 6 years old. Of course, he shares very little with his current and would-be female colleagues, except for their connection to New York City.)

The conspicuous presence of three New York women on the high court surely is no accident. Here, young women are encouraged to develop their talents and pursue their ambitions, and they are rewarded when they succeed. That is not to say that every glass ceiling in the office buildings of Manhattan, the brownstones of Brooklyn and the Cape Cods of Staten Island has been shattered. But the success of women like Elena Kagan (and so many others, in so many other fields) surely says something positive about New York’s families, schools and neighborhoods.

New York may no longer be the home of would-be presidents. But as the nation’s hothouse for ideas and innovation, its influence over public policy remains as strong as ever, thanks to the brains and talent of New York women.