WASHINGTON Ã¢â‚¬â€ President Barack Obama Monday nominated US solicitor general Elena Kagan, a renowned legal scholar, for the Supreme Court, seeking to bolster the liberal bloc on the conservative-dominated bench.
Kagan, 50, has close ties to Democratic power brokers, and the lifetime appointment would offer the party the hope of a progressive voice on the Supreme Court for many years to come.
If confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, Kagan would replace retiring John Paul Stevens, 90, the court’s leading liberal, who sat on the bench for 34 years, through a time of turmoil and change in US life.
A former Harvard law professor, Kagan would be the fourth woman to serve on the top US court, and the president’s second pick after he chose Sonia Sotomayor, as the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, last year.
She would also become the youngest member of the court and, given her advocacy experience, may have the potential to emerge as a persuasive voice who could bridge the gaps between its liberal and conservative wings.
“She has an excellent chance, and she would be terrific,” Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe said. “She has a masterful command of so many areas of law. And she’s been vetted and recently confirmed. Her writing is not voluminous, which is also a plus.”
A high-powered legal scholar and veteran of President Bill Clinton’s White House, Kagan — unlike most Supreme Court picks — has not served for years as a judge, meaning she has no damaging legal paper trail that could derail her confirmation.
She is also said to have cultivated ties with conservatives, which could help her confirmation prospects.
Through his Supreme Court picks, the US president can wield influence on US politics, law and the society for years after he leaves office.
Kagan would not likely however change the ideological balance of the court, which is weighted towards conservatives.
Republicans may make a show of opposing Kagan’s nomination but many observers believe she is likely to win Senate confirmation. Kagan was confirmed to serve as solicitor general last year by 61 votes to 31 in the Senate.
Despite her post as solicitor general, arguing the US government’s case before the Supreme Court, Kagan has no direct judicial experience.
Some liberal and legal interest groups had pressured the president to chose someone from outside the “judicial monastery.”
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.”
Kagan has spent years in academia teaching law, rather than arguing cases in court, a factor that may have impressed Obama, a former constitutional law professor.
When facing Senate confirmation as solicitor general, Attorney General Eric Holder praised her “intelligence, experience and commitment to the rule of law.”
Kagan would be only the fourth woman to sit on the nation’s top court after retired associate justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sotomayor.
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.
With the Clinton administration, Kagan cultivated contacts with many lawyers now serving in the Obama administration.
She was named by Clinton in 1999 to fill a vacancy at the Washington DC appeals court, and went on to become a visiting professor of law at Harvard in 1999 and then professor of law in 2001. She was appointed dean in 2003.
In a letter to the Harvard Law School when Obama chose her as solicitor general, Kagan said she had accepted the nomination “to help advance this nation’s commitment to the rule of law at what I think is a critical time in our history.”
This video is from MSNBC’s News Live, broadcast May 10, 2010.