Kagan's Family in NYC: 'Just Incredibly Proud'

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Senate confirmation hearings begin Monday afternoon in Washington for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Her brother Irving Kagan will be seated behind her while she testifies.

For weeks, the White House has recommended that Irving Kagan and his brother Marc avoid talking to the media, but Irving says he now wishes he'd spoken up earlier. Because all he's wanted to say this whole time is how happy he is for his sister.

"My brother and I are just very excited about my sister and her prospects," he says, "and you know, we're just incredibly proud." Irving teaches constitutional law at Hunter College High School. Both he and his brother became public school teachers in New York City, like their mother. Irving says he wishes their parents were still alive today, so they could kvell.

"My parents would be, you know, over-the-top about this, just thrilled," he says, "because my father really loved being an attorney, and you know, my mother taught history. I mean, this would be the fulfillment of everything they would have hoped for."

Irving says his parents would have seen Elena's success as the fulfillment of the dreams of her Russian Jewish immigrant grandparents, who arrived here with nothing. And they'd be especially proud of how she broke gender barriers, as the first female dean of Harvard Law School and the first female Solicitor General of the United States.

As a kid brother, Irving says he's admired his sister from early on. He remembers watching her preside over student government meetings as the school president at Hunter College High School.

"Even today, my friends recall being very impressed by the whole thing," he says. "She had a way of, I think, controlling a room even then, when she was an 11th grader."

Friends say Elena would carry that presence into her college years. Evelyn Attia was one of Elena Kagan's closest friends at Princeton. Both of them were reporters for the campus newspaper. Attia says it was no secret -- even then -- that Kagan had her sights set on the nation's highest court.

"Once she realized she was going to go on to law school, many of us who knew her knew that she was hoping to be a judge," says Attia. "She wanted to pursue just the kind of position that she is now hopefully on the brink of being appointed to, and it's tremendously exciting."

Elena's 22-year-old niece, Rachel Kagan, agrees. She says she can barely wrap her brain around the latest development in her aunt's life. Rachel grew up awestruck by each of her accomplishments, and says it was plain hard work that got her aunt to where she is today.

"A lot of it is luck, a lot of it is being in the right place at the right time," says Rachel, "but she is just such a hard worker. And that's something I really admire and hope to live up to."

Now an aide to state Sen. Eric Schneiderman, Rachel says she's planning on going to law school, too. She says she'll try to watch the confirmation hearings, but she'll be running around Albany with Schneiderman, trying to get a state budget passed.