Democratic- and Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices have both found themselves ensnared in roiling scandals. We all know about Clarence Thomas’ decision to sell his soul—whose fair market value is an olive loaf sandwich and two comped loge seats to a donkey basketball game—for millions of dollars in fabulous prizes. But have you heard about Bagel-gate? Well, you should have—because oy, is it ever meshugga.
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So buckle in, folks. We have lox to talk about here. This harrowing tale of an inside-the-Beltway grift will no doubt stir your
A group of women who went to high school with Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan wanted to send her bagels and lox from Russ & Daughters, the legendary deli on the Lower East Side. But they scrapped the plan after Kagan expressed concerns about the court’s ethics rules for reporting gifts.
Uh oh. That doesn’t sound good. Someone alert Jim Comer.
But arguably, it gets worse.
The idea of sending the appetizing spread was proposed in February 2021 and abandoned soon after. But Kagan’s ethical concerns about accepting bagels and lox from her high school pals are newly relevant in contrast with the scandal surrounding Justice Clarence Thomas, who failed to disclose luxury vacations and other gifts from billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow.
Wait, Clarence Thomas accepted millions of dollars’ worth of gifts from who? Oh, yeah. That guy with all the Heinrich Himmler action figures.
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It’s clear why so many people think there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between America’s two major political parties. For instance, one party elects presidents who have an extensive, well-documented history of (allegedly!) engaging in—and bragging about—sexual assault, culminating in $5 million jury awards for their victims. The other party elects presidents who brutally defame our nation by wearing tan suits and appearing “too casual” while eating ice cream.
But back to that box of bagels that Kagan never got.
The writer Sarah Schulman, who also went to Hunter, posted on Facebook on May 6 that the care package for Kagan was envisioned “as a sign of support for the nightmare of having to go to work with Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch every day. She turned it down because her ethical standard is to not accept any gifts. I mean, she said no to lox and bagels!”
Sure, but how long did it take her to say no? Did she add any cream cheese to her Instacart queue before eventually refusing the gift? Because that speaks to intent. What did Kagan know about these chewy, scandal-suffused carb bombs and when did she know it?
Of course, one of the women who attended Manhattan’s Hunter College High School with Kagan in the ‘70s offered a quick, knee-jerk defense of Kagan’s snack-adjacent venality.
“It was creating more stress for her than it was worth,” said Ann Starer, one of Kagan’s former classmates. She added that Kagan “was incredibly touched, she was definitely not comfortable with it.”
“Elena was always a very solid, trustworthy person,” added Schulman, who’s currently a professor at Northwestern University. “She was the president of student government at Hunter, and just a very normal Jewish girl from Manhattan. And we were all very proud of her, but very concerned about her having to be on the front lines with these scoundrels. We thought it would be a sign of support to send her some lox, but she was too ethical to take the lox.”
See, Clarence? It’s really not that difficult. The next time an ultra-wealthy dude with a vested interest in remaking America in his own image offers you millions of dollars in perks, you can ask yourself “WWED?” What would Elena do?
And if you’re worried about ruining a friendship by turning down heartfelt gifts, well, your friends will understand if they’re your real friends and aren’t just buying SCOTUS judges because they enjoy collecting statues of history’s most notorious villains.
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The real story here, as MSNBC’s Jordan Rubin notes, is how inconsistent SCOTUS justices’ ethics concerns are.
Kagan, it seems, can police herself, but the same cannot be said for all of her colleagues.
And even if every justice had a nice bagel story, that wouldn't lessen the need for a binding, enforceable ethics code.
And speaking of nice? According to Starer, after refusing the lox and bagels, Kagan went out of her way to tell her, “I’m very grateful.”
Sure, sure. So you say. I still say something smells fishy. Though that’s probably just the lox, to be fair.
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