Throwback: Kagan Kills At Confirmation Hearing With Hilarious Christmas Crack


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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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Though confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court are wearisome as a general rule, Justice Elena Kagan landed a hysterical Christmas-themed wisecrack during her June 2010 appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

During those proceedings, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina asked Kagan, who is Jewish, how she spent the last Christmas holiday.

“Like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant,” Kagan quipped, prompting hearty laughter and applause in the hearing room.

“I’m enjoying some of the ethnic humor here,” Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said later during the hearing. (RELATED: Supreme Court To Consider Reach Of Catholic School Immunity From Bias Lawsuits)

The exchange arose because Graham was beginning a line of questioning about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, an Islamic extremist who attempted to detonate a bomb on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day in 2009. Following his arrest in the U.S., Abdulmutallab was read his Miranda rights. Graham was among many Republicans who suggested terrorists should not be Mirandized.

Though Kagan is funny by reputation, she trails two of her colleagues in laughs elicited from the bench during oral argument, according to a Boston University law professor who tracks instances of laughter as they appear in Supreme Court transcripts. Justice Stephen Breyer leads the court with 26 laughs elicited this term. Kagan is in the third position with 10, behind Chief Justice John Roberts who has 17.

In reflecting on her confirmation hearing in other venues, Kagan joked her Christmas Day witticism will probably be the defining part of her legacy, given the relative anonymity most justices enjoy.

WATCH Kagan’s exchange with Graham:

Kagan is one of three Jews currently serving on the Supreme Court. The other two are Breyer and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Late Justice Louis Brandeis was the high court’s first Jewish justice.

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