Supreme Court Justices Officiate Lots of Weddings

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's starring role at Michael Kahn's wedding over the weekend is just the latest example.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a.k.a. Notorious RBG, attracted attention Sunday afternoon when she officiated a same-sex wedding in advance of this summer’s Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. The ceremony, between Shakespeare Theater Company artistic director Michael Kahn and New York architect Charles Mitchem, took place at the Anderson House on Embassy Row.

As the New York Times reported Monday, “With a sly look and special emphasis on the word ‘Constitution,’ Justice Ginsburg said that she was pronouncing the two men married by the powers vested in her by the Constitution of the United States.”

It’s possible the justice was hinting at the outcome of the pending court case, where a decision is expected by late June, but it’s no secret where Ginsburg stands on the issue. It’s also not the first time she’s officiated at a same-sex marriage—or at any marriage, for that matter.

Though rules vary by state, Supreme Court justices are able to preside over marriage ceremonies in most jurisdictions. Below, a sampling of weddings that sitting justices have officiated.

RBG

  • Presided over NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell’s marriage to Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, at the Inn at Little Washington in 1997.
  • Officiated the marriage of her friend Nina Totenberg, legal affairs correspondent for NPR, and surgeon David Reines, in DC in 2000.
  • Became the first Supreme Court justice to officiate a same-sex marriage ceremony when she conducted the Kennedy Center wedding of Michael M. Kaiser, then the arts center’s president, and economist John Roberts (no relation to the chief justice) in 2013. “I can’t imagine someone I’d rather be married by,” Kaiser told the Washington Post. The wedding was just a few months after the court struck down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act.
  • A month later, RBG presided over the DC wedding of public affairs specialist Michael Widomski and food critic David Hagedorn. The couple told the Huffington Post that they had sent Ginsburg a letter after reading that she’d never been asked to preside over a same-sex wedding. On the day the court session ended in summer 2013, she wrote them back, accepting the request “with the caveat that she had opera tickets on the evening of our wedding and therefore had to be finished with her duties as officiant by 5:30 p.m.” After saying their vows, the couple toasted the justice with glasses of whole milk, a nod to the “skim milk marriage” metaphor that Ginsburg used during oral arguments for the DOMA case.

Stephen Breyer

  • Officiated former Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s marriage to school teacher Amy Petitgout, in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, in 2011.

Elena Kagan

  • After a spur-of-the-moment request, Kagan officiated the 2011 marriage of her friend Philip Bobbitt, once described as the James Bond of Columbia Law School, and Maya Ondalikoglu, then a student at Columbia Law. The ceremony was held in the justice’s chambers.

Sonia Sotomayor

  • If you’re angling for a Supreme Court wedding, your best bet may be clerking for one of the justices. According to a letter signed by many of Sotomayor’s former clerks in support of her nomination to the Supreme Court, it’s typical for her to officiate at clerks’ weddings. Shortly after her confirmation in 2009, she officiated the wedding of former clerk Danielle Feldman Tarantolo, to Sean Henderson Murray, in an anteroom of the court’s official spouses’ dining room.

Clarence Thomas

  • Officiated Rush Limbaugh’s third marriage, to aerobics instructor Marta Fitzgerald, in 1994. The ceremony was held at Thomas’s home in Virginia. Limbaugh and Marta divorced in 2004.

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Harrison Smith

Harrison Smith (@harrisondsmith on Twitter) has contributed to the Washington Post and Chicago magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]