When Elena Kagan was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2010, many in the U.S. celebrated the fact that there were now three women on the Supreme Court—the most women in the court’s history. However, women justices are, regretfully, late arrivals at the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court was established in 1789, but Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the court, was not appointed until 1981, 192 years later. Next were Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 1993, Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan in 2010. Amy Coney Barrett joined the ranks in September 2020.
However, this story is about a little-known fact that was shared by the three women justices in early 2020. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan had one thing in common: they and their families had all lived in a housing co-op. In fact, if you count all the years their respective families lived in their co-op apartments it amounts to 111 years. Here’s a short bio of each of their lives in a housing cooperative.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Nominated to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and served until her death in September 2020. Ginsberg was the first Jewish woman and the second woman to serve on the court. She was born in 1933.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Ginsberg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where she served until her appointment to the Supreme Court in 1993.
That same year, Ruth and Martin Ginsberg moved into their co-op apartment in Watergate South, Washington, DC. At the time, Ginsberg was the only Supreme Court justice who lived in Washington, DC.
Martin died at Watergate South in 2010, but Ruth Bader continued to live in their co-op apartment. Among other benefits, Ginsberg appreciated being able to attend concerts at the nearby Kennedy Center. It is not yet known whether one of their two children will take over the co-op apartment.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg lived in her co-op apartment for 40 years (1980-2020).
Watergate South, 257 apartments, 700 New Hampshire Avenue, Washington DC, 20037
Nominated to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama and has served since August 2009. Sotomayor is the first Hispanic and Latina member of the Court. She was born in 1954.
Sotomayor’s mother, Celina moved the family into Co-op City in 1970 when Sonia Sotomayor was sixteen. The family had been living in the Bronxdale Houses, a public housing project that had become increasingly unsafe to live in. Her father had died in the Bronxdale Houses when Sonia was nine.
With 15,372 apartments, Co-op City is the largest housing co-op in the world. More than 43,000 people live at Co-op City, which even has its own zip code, 10475. Soon after her mother had moved into Co-op City, four other Sotomayor families (mainly cousins) moved into other Co-op City Apartments.
Sotomayor graduated as valedictorian from Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx in 1972.
Although Sotomayor left to go to Princeton (1972-76) and later Yale (1976-79) for her law degree, her mother’s co-op apartment remained the family home. Later, Celina married again and she and her husband finally left the apartment in Co-op City to retire in Florida.
Sotomayor’s family lived at Apt. 5G, 100 Dreiser Loop, Co-op City for 29 years.
Nominated to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama and has served since August 2010. Kagan is the second Jewish woman and the fourth woman to become a member of the court. She was born in 1960.
From childhood on, Elena Kagan grew up in a housing co-op in Manhattan. In about 1960, as a lawyer, Kagan’s father Robert was heavily involved in helping tenants collectively purchase their building as a co-op. The Kagans so loved the building at 320 West End Avenue that when Robert and his partner organized the resident renters to buy the building as a co-op the Kagans bought apartment 3B and the co-op became the family home. Kagan grew up in the Westside co-op until she left for Princeton in 1977.
Although she, too, left for Princeton, Apt. #B 320 West End Avenue remained her home. Even though her father Robert died in 1994, her mother Gloria continued to live there until she died in 2008. The co-op apartment remained in the Kagan family for 49 years.