WASHINGTON (AFP) Ã¢â‚¬â€œ President Barack Obama’s second US Supreme Court pick, Elena Kagan, cruised to all-but-certain confirmation Thursday in a final Senate vote making her just the fourth woman to reach the high bench.
Kagan, who as US solicitor general has argued the Obama administration’s case before the high court, is not expected to alter its ideological balance when she replaces retiring liberal standard bearer John Paul Stevens.
The nine justices serve life terms as the final arbiters of the US Constitution, setting precedents for all US courts and adjudicating bitter disputes, often in narrow 5-4 rulings that can take a generation to reverse.
Some of their most controversial decisions have included the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in the United States and the Bush v. Gore case that handed the disputed 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush.
Democrats and their two independent allies control 59 seats, well over the 50 needed to confirm Kagan, but hope to draw significant Republican support.
So far, five Republicans have said they will support her, while Senator Ben Nelson may be the sole Democratic “no” vote.
Kagan would be the second justice named by Obama, after Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic to reach the bench, and would bring to three the number of women on the court.
Nominating US Supreme Court justices ranks among the most consequential powers of the US presidency, as a judge’s lifetime tenure typically stretches well beyond the influence of the temporary occupant of the White House.
Democrats pointed to her decades of legal work, including in her current position as US solicitor general and her time as the first woman dean of Harvard Law School.
Her Republican critics said they feared she would be unable to keep her personal politics separate from her judging and painted her as a foe of gun ownership and of restrictions on abortion
But despite looming November elections to decide control of the US Congress, opposition to Kagan has been relatively tepid.
Kagan drew the American Bar Association’s highest rating of “unanimously well qualified” and her nomination had the support of past solicitors general, including many Republicans.