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Justice Kagan welcomed to the bench by new colleagues

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
  • Obama attends welcoming ceremony
  • Kagan's addition is the first time 3 women have been on the bench at the same time
  • Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman Supreme Court justice, attends, as does David Souter

Washington (CNN) -- Justice Elena Kagan was welcomed to the Supreme Court by her new colleagues in a brief special ceremony Friday in the ornate courtroom.

President Barack Obama was among those who witnessed the investiture of the 112th justice, as the court accepted her official commission to serve on the high court.

During the eight-minute ceremony, a beaming Kagan formally joined the eight other justices on the bench. The court officially begins its new term next week -- the first Monday in October -- hearing arguments in two cases.

Among those who attended were members of Congress and the Obama administration, including Attorney General Eric Holder, who formally introduced Kagan to those gathered.

Kagan-- wearing an off-white scarf tucked neatly under her new judicial robes -- was escorted into the courtroom and seated off the elevated bench area in a special ceremonial chair once used by Chief Justice John Marshall in the 19th century. As she waited to be introduced, several justices looked out and acknowledged the junior justice. Justice Clarence Thomas in particular made a point to nod and smile warmly at her. She was then brought to the bench, where the 50-year-old New York native retook the judicial oath administered by Chief Justice John Roberts. She was then escorted to the far end of the bench and her new seat.

Roberts concluded the ceremony by saying, "It is my pleasure to offer you a warm welcome" and wishing her "a long and happy career in our common calling."

Most of the other justices showed little emotion, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg smiled widely throughout the entire ceremony. There are now three women on the bench for the first time in the Court's history. Ginsburg -- now the court's oldest member at 77 -- had openly called for more gender diversity on that bench.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined the court last year as its first Hispanic member. Obama nominated her to replace retiring Justice David Souter.

Friday's pageantry was mostly for show, since Kagan was already confirmed last month by the Senate and officially sworn in August 7 by the chief justice, allowing her to begin her work immediately. She was the solicitor general in the Justice Department when Obama nominated her May 10 to fill the vacancy left by the retired Justice John Paul Stevens. He -- along with the two other retired justices -- Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, and Souter -- were seated in a special visitors gallery next to the president.

Kagan appeared confident entering the courtroom. She nodded slightly when Obama arrived into the courtroom.

Earlier the president and the justices met privately at a conference room for a small reception. After the ceremony, Roberts later escorted Kagan down the exterior steps of the court for a photo opportunity with the media. She was asked if she was ready for the new term beginning next week.

"All set," she said, then walked off back into her new workplace.

From CNN's Bill Mears