Gender diversity on the U.S. Supreme Court sends a positive message to young girls and boys, who hear "women's voices coming from all over the place" as the three female justices join in asking questions during oral arguments, Justice Elena Kagan said Monday.
"None of us are shrinking violets," Kagan said of herself and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor during an appearance at the University of Louisville. "We all ask questions, often."
Kagan noted that Ginsburg sits near the middle of the court due to her seniority while she and Sotomayor are at both wings. She said she hopes their roles in the proceedings make an impression on student visitors.
"So there are these women's voices coming from all over the place," Kagan said. "And you sort of think, there are all these school kids, and it's good for the girls and it's good for the boys, too, that they look up there and that they see women performing this role and this function in our democracy."
But Kagan downplayed the role of gender when it comes to deciding cases.
"I don't really think the value of gender diversity is that we bring some different perspective or a different set of concerns or different kinds of questions," she said. "I think that occasionally happens, but it's really rare."
While the court's current female justices are often on the same side in cases, it doesn't have anything to do with gender, Kagan said.
"Another president could appoint another woman and she would disagree on all kinds of things with me," she said. "So I guess I don't think that women bring any special perspective for most of our cases. But I do think, anyway, that there is a real value in having women up there."
Appearing before an audience that included law students and the area's legal community, Kagan lifted the curtain behind one of the court's traditions — in which the justices have lunch together after meeting to vote on pending cases.
Kagan was asked if she ever wanted to skip dining with colleagues because of an outcome.
"I don't think you'd be human if sometimes you think, 'Oh, I'd really rather just go back to my office and punch a wall or something,'" she said, drawing laughs. "But, in fact, I've never not gone."
She recalled a lesson she learned from Ginsburg and Justice Stephen G. Breyer early in her court tenure.
Leaving a conference in which she was disappointed with the outcome of a case, she remarked to her two colleagues that she didn't want to go to lunch and chat with justices on the opposite side of the case. Ginsburg and Breyer also were disappointed at the outcome, but set her straight.
"They both said, 'You have to go up. That is not acceptable behavior to sulk,'" Kagan said. "And that was absolutely right. That was great advice. So I went up and I made chit-chat and never again did I ever think that."
Kagan took questions from two of the university's law professors during the event. She wasn't asked specifically about the court's vacancy since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. When asked about Scalia, Kagan said she misses him and considered him a good friend, but she didn't delve into the vacancy. Senate Republicans have refused to act on Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to fill Scalia's seat.