May 10, 2010 1:23 PM by Melissa Canone
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama nominated Solicitor
General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court on Monday, declaring the
former Harvard Law School dean "one of the nation's foremost legal
minds." She would be the court's youngest justice and give it
three female members for the first time.
The nomination to replace liberal retiring Justice John Paul
Stevens set the stage for a bruising confirmation battle, though
mathematically Democrats should be able to prevail in the end.
At 50, Kagan, is relatively young for the lifetime post and
could help shape the high court's decisions for decades. If
confirmed by the Senate, she would become only the fourth female
justice in history.
Obama cited what he called Kagan's "openness to a broad array
of viewpoints" and her "fair mindedness."
Standing beside the president in the East Room of the White
House, Kagan said she was "honored and humbled by this
"I look forward to working with the Senate in the next stage of
this process, and I thank you again, Mr. President, for this honor
of a lifetime," she said.
Republicans are expected to criticize her for attempting to bar
military recruiters from the Harvard Law campus while she was dean.
That issue was used against her by criticr the law," Obama said.
He noted that neither Kagan's mother nor father "lived to see
this day, but I think her mother would relish this moment. I think
she would relish, as I do, the prospect of three women taking their
seat on the nation's highest court for the first time in history
... a court that would be more inclusive, more representative, more
reflective of us as a people than ever before."
Kagan praised Stevens for having "played a particularly
distinguished and exemplary role. It is therefore a special honor
to be nominated to fill his seat."
In a short tenure as solicitor general "I have felt blessed to
represent the United States before the Supreme Court, to walk into
the highest court in this country when it is deciding its most
important cases, cases that have an impact on so many people's
lives," she said.
Seven Republicans voted for her confirmation last year as
One of them, Orrin Hatch of Utah, a member of the Judiciary
Committee, issued a statement saying his decision this time "will
be based on evidence, not blind faith. Her previous confirmation
and my support for her in that position do not by themselves
establish either her qualifications for the Supreme Court or my
obligation to support her."
Kagan would become the only justice who had no prior experience
as a judge. The other justices all served previously as federal
appeals court judges. She was nominated to a federal appeals court
post by President Bill Clinton but never served.
That means Kagan has a smaller paper trail than other recent
nominees since there are no prior decisions to scrutinize.
But conservatives were already mounting an attack, one they laid
the groundwork for when she was mentioned last year as being on
Obama's short list for the Supreme Court post last time around.
Obama's White House team was launching its own broad
campaign-style outreach to Capitol Hill and the media. That effort
is designed to shape the national image of Kagan, an unknown figure
to much of America.
Her selection came after nearly a monthlong process of
consideration. Obama always had Kagan on his short list but still
considered a broader group of candidates, interviewing four.
The president informed Kagan that she would a Supreme Court
nominee on Sunday night. He then called the three federal judges he
did not choose for the position, Diane Wood, Merrick Garland and
Kagan is known as sharp and politically savvy and has enjoyed a
blazing legal career. She was the first female dean of Harvard Law
School, first woman to serve as the top Supreme Court lawyer for
A source close to the selection process said a central element
in Obama's choice was Kagan's reputation for bringing together
people of competing views and earning their respect.
The seven Republicans who supported her when she was confirmed
as solicitor general in 2009 included Hatch, Tom Coburn of
Oklahoma, Susan Collins of Maine, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Jon
Kyl of Arizona, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Olympia Snowe of
Kagan has clerked for Thurgood Marshall, worked for Bill Clinton
and earned a stellar reputation as a student, teacher and manager
of the elite academic world. Yet she would be the first justice
without judicial experience in almost 40 years. The last two were
William H. Rehnquist and Lewis F. Powell Jr., both of whom joined
the court in 1972.
Supreme Court justices wield enormous power over the daily life
of Americans. Any one of them can cast the deciding vote on matters
of life and death, individual freedoms and government power.
Presidents serve four-year terms; justices have tenure for life.
Democrats went 15 years without a Supreme Court appointment
until Obama chose federal appellate judge Sonia Sotomayor last year
to succeed retiring Justice David Souter. Just 16 months in office,
Obama has a second opportunity with Kagan.
Kagan, who is unmarried, was born in New York City. She holds a
bachelor's degree from Princeton, a master's degree from Oxford and
a law degree from Harvard.
Before she served as a clerk for Justice Marshall, she clerked
for federal Appeals Court Judge Abner Mikva, who later became an
important political mentor to Obama in Chicago.
Kagan and Obama both taught at the University of Chicago Law
School in the early 1990s.
In her current job, Kagan represents the U.S. government and
defends acts of Congress before the Supreme Court and decides when
to appeal lower court rulings.