So Tonight, Richard Wade and I Met Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan

Tonight Richard Wade of the Friendly Atheist and I were headed to an American Humanist Association event in Washington DC. Before tonight I hadn’t been to DC since I was about 12 years old. So we emerged from the metro station at Dupont Circle onto the streets of Washington DC for the first time and within five minutes, while on Q Street crossing 18th Street, out of the corner of my eye I spotted Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan among the people walking with us through the crosswalk. So I was looking over repeatedly across Richard trying to make sure I was seeing who I thought I was seeing. So Richard asked me, do you think you recognize someone. And I said, “Is that Elena Kagan?” Richard thought I said “Kay Hagan”. He didn’t exactly remember who Kay Hagan was but did remember she had something to do with supporting atheists and he thought since the woman’s face was familiar that maybe he had met her at a conference.

For the record, Kay Hagan is North Carolina’s junior United States Senator. She won her seat against Elizabeth Dole in 2008. During the election contest, Dole’s campaign had tried to turn voters against Hagan (a Presbyterian and former Sunday School teacher) on the false (and unconstitutional) grounds that she as an atheist because the Godless Americans Pac had raised money for her. Kay Hagan was not in the crosswalk with us and even were she, she is not an atheist but was only disparaged for possibly being one.

Richard asked Justice Kagan if she was Kay Hagan. Not hearing him exactly and thinking he asked if she was Elena Kagan, she said “I am”. Richard, thinking he was talking to a bold atheist political figure of some sort, introduced himself and me, and the Justice politely nodded as though she was supposed to know or care who the fuck we were. Then Richard proceeded with boyish enthusiasm to ask the Justice if she was going to the American Humanist Association meeting. She just matter of factly said, “I’m not” and seemed to me to be hoping we would simply leave her alone. And I was more than happy to. But Richard thought her apparent displeasure was because she wasn’t able to get to a reservation to the American Humanist Association event we were going to and so felt embarrassed and sorry for her for different reasons than I did.

Shortly thereafter, he told me who he thought we met, I told him who we actually met, and we have laughed about this pretty much all night. Richard, in his own defense, wants to be credited for being the only person in DC to lobby (albeit unwittingly) a Supreme Court Justice on behalf of the American Humanist Association. I have mostly just been kicking myself for missing the opportunity to give her one of my brand new business cards I was carrying with me.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • jim

    Could have been worse. You could of met Clarence Thomas and have him not say anything to you the entire time.

  • Charles Sullivan

    How many beers for Richard?

    • Daniel Fincke

      None in over two decades!

  • Marta

    On top of being a very awesome (and I must say quintessentially DC) experience this was just the kind of example I struggled to get my class to understand today. Richard had a belief that this was a politician who was good for atheist and was honored to meet her, even though the thought process leading to that conclusion failed to provide justification.

    Seriously, awesome experience. Do enjoy DC – it’s a really neat city.

  • omcdurham

    I live in North Carolina, and since Kay Hagan won her seat, I haven’t heard word one from her. My wife voted for her, but she seems to have disappeared from our landscape since the election.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Those must be some swell business cards. Are you going to post a photo?

  • John Pieret

    All together a reasonably satisfactory encounter with our “justice” system.

  • furtivezoog

    You met Edwin Kagin? That’s awesome!

  • MDAtheist

    Carl Sagan!? How exciting! (Great story.)

    • furtivezoog

      If you met Carl Sagan recently, I think he would be having some mixed emotions about it: “Well, you know that ‘Demon-haunted thing? Bad news after all..” :-P

  • Hibernia86

    It’s strange who you will randomly run into in DC. I ran into Joe Lieberman at the Georgetown University hospital and Jesse Jackson outside Congress on the day they were voting on Obamacare (obviously neither of those this past weekend, but seeing Richard Dawkins, Adam Savage, and the rest was better).

  • Lori

    Heh, that’s so DC. I miss living there sometimes, but it doesn’t last long.

  • Bill Haines

    Having also lobbied in DC on Friday, all I can say is… I’m jealous. ;)