President Barack Obama Monday picked Elena Kagan, a “trailblazing” legal scholar, to sit on the US Supreme Court, seeking to lock in decades of liberal consensus building on the conservative-dominated bench.
Obama called on the US Senate to swiftly confirm Kagan, 50, the US solicitor general and former dean of Harvard Law school, in a bipartisan fashion, despite the fevered political climate ahead of mid-term elections in November.
“I have selected a nominee who I believe embodies… excellence, independence, integrity and passion for the law, and who can ultimately provide that same kind of leadership on the court,” Obama said at the White House.
Democrats praised Kagan as “razor sharp” and impeccably qualified for the lifetime appointment on the nine-member bench, but Republicans promised to vigorously vet a “surprising” choice, noting she had never been a judge.
Kagan’s nomination represents Obama’s second bid to reshape the Court, which adjudicates critical questions of US political, legal and social life, for years to come, following his appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor last year.
He said he was pleased that Kagan, if confirmed would be the third woman on the current court, saying the bench, to which he appointed Sotomayor as the first Hispanic justice, would reflect American life as never before.
“Elena is widely regarded as one of the nation’s foremost legal minds,” Obama said.
“She is a trailblazing leader, said Obama, arguing Kagan’s “fair-mindedness and “skill as a consensus builder” on the high court, would replace some of the wisdom lost with the retirement of the court’s top liberal John Paul Stevens.
The president also called on the US Senate to swiftly confirm Kagan’s appointment in a bipartisan fashion, despite a political row already brewing over her nomination to replace Stevens, 90, who served for 34 years.
Kagan thanked Obama for the “honor of a lifetime” and said she “so loved the law.”
“I am honored and I am humbled by this nomination and by the confidence you have shown in me,” said Kagan.
“It’s challenging and endlessly interesting … law matters, because it keeps us safe, because it protects our most fundamental rights and freedoms, and because it is the foundation of our democracy.”
Kagan was easily confirmed last year to serve as solicitor general, to argue the US government’s case before Chief Justice John Roberts and the very Supreme Court associate justices she now hopes to join.
But Republicans were already laying the ground for a political battle over her confirmation, which they will likely lose, but hope to turn into a political cause celebre in the run-up to congressional polls in November.
“She is a surprising choice from a president who has emphasized the importance of understanding ‘how the world works and how ordinary people live,’” said Republican Senator John Cornyn, citing Kagan’s liberal academic background.
“Ms Kagan is likewise a surprising choice because she lacks judicial experience. Most Americans believe that prior judicial experience is a necessary credential for a Supreme Court Justice.”
Conservative Republican Senator Jon Kyl argued that the fact Kagan was easily confirmed by the Senate last year for her current job did not guarantee her an easy ride as a Supreme Court nominee.
“As I made clear when I supported her confirmation as solicitor general, a temporary political appointment is far different than a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”
Some liberal and legal interest groups had pressured the president to choose someone from outside the “judicial monastery” so may favor Obama’s pick, which was widely trailed in advance.
Some liberals however are concerned about Kagan’s stance on civil liberties in the legal battle against terrorism.
Obama said in April, after praising the tenure of Stevens, that he would chose a replacement who “knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.”
A 1981 graduate of Princeton University, Kagan completed her studies at Havard Law School in 1986, leaving just two years before Obama entered the prestigious institution.
She clerked for a judge on the Washington US Court of Appeals and for Justice Thurgood Marshall at the Supreme Court, before entering private practice from 1989 to 1991.
She was professor of law in Chicago and was chosen by Clinton as his associate counsel and then advisor on domestic policy between 1995 and 1999 during the Clinton administration.
This video is from MSNBC’s News Live, broadcast May 10, 2010.