When Elena Kagan was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, many in the United States 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. 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, then Sonia Sotomayor in 2009, Elena Kagan in 2010 and Amy Coney Barrett last year.
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 cooperative. Here’s a short biography of each of their lives in a housing cooperative.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg
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. She served until her death in September 2020.
Ruth and Martin Ginsberg moved into their cooperative apartment in Watergate South, Washington, D.C. during her court of appeals appointment. At the time, Ginsberg was the only Supreme Court justice who lived in the city.
Martin Ginsberg died at Watergate South in 2010, but Ginsberg continued to live in their cooperative 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 cooperative apartment.
Ginsberg lived in her cooperative apartment for 40 years (1980-2020).
Watergate South, 257 apartments, 700 New Hampshire Avenue, Washington D.C. 20037
President Barack Obama nominated Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. She has served since August 8, 2009. Sotomayor is the first Hispanic and Latina member of the Court.
In 1970 Sotomayor’s mother, Celina moved the family into Co-op City in New York City when Sonia Sotomayor was 16. 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.
Co-op City is the largest housing cooperative in the world. Over 43,000 people live at Co-op City, and it has its own zip code, 10475. Soon after her mother had moved into the cooperative, four other Sotomayor families (mainly cousins) then moved into other Co-op City apartments.
Sotomayor graduated as valedictorian from Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx in 1972. Although she left to go to Princeton (1972-76) and then later Yale (1976-79) for her law degree, her mother’s cooperative apartment was still 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.
Co-op City, 15,372 apartments, 2049 Bartow Avenue, Bronx, NY 10475
President Barack Obama also nominated Kagan to the Supreme Court. She has served since August 7, 2010. Kagan is the second Jewish woman and the fourth woman to become a member of the court. Kagan was born in 1960.
As a child, Kagan grew up in a housing cooperative in Manhattan. In about 1960, as a lawyer, Kagan’s father Robert, was actively involved in helping tenants collectively purchase their building as a cooperative. 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 cooperative, the Kagans bought apartment 3B, and the cooperative became the family home. Kagan grew up in the Westside cooperative until she left for Princeton in 1977.
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. Neither parent lived long enough to see her appointed to the Supreme Court.
The estate of Kagan’s mother sold the cooperative apartment at the 320 West End Avenue Co-op in 2009 (49 years in the Kagan family).
320 Owners Corporation, 31 apartments, 320 West End Avenue, New York, NY 10023
If you count all the years these Justices families lived in their cooperative apartments it amounts to 111 “supreme” years.
This article was featured in the Summer issue of CHQ. Click here to read the PDF newsletter.
David J Thompson is president of Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation and a co-principal of Neighborhood Partners, LLC, www.nplic.org.