WASHINGTON - 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 potentially bruising summertime confirmation battle before the court begins its next session, 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 nomination.”
“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 critics during her confirmation hearing last year for her current post.
Democratic officials said Kagan would begin making the rounds of senators’ offices on Wednesday.
With control of 59 votes in the Senate, Democrats should be able to win confirmation. However, if all 41 Republicans vote together, they could delay a vote with a filibuster.
Republicans have shown no signs in advance that they would try to prevent a vote on Kagan, but they are certain to grill her in confirmation hearings over her experience, her thin record of legal writings and her decisions at Harvard.
“Our constituents deserve a civil and thoughtful debate on this nomination, followed by an up-or-down vote,” said the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Judges must not be a rubber stamp for any administration. Judges must not walk into court with a preconceived idea of who should win,” he said, adding that Republicans would have a vigorous debate on that principle.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, top Republican on the Judiciary Committee that will conduct the confirmation hearing, said the president’s timetable for a vote by early August “should be doable.” He said Kagan’s lack of experience as a judge was a weakness but wouldn’t disqualify her.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., said flatly that he would oppose Kagan. He said she had shown “seeming contempt” for the Senate confirmation process and a “lack of impartiality when it comes to those who disagree with her position.”
Obama introduced Kagan as “my friend.” Kagan and Obama both taught at the University of Chicago Law School in the early 1990s.
“Elena is widely regarded as one of the nation’s foremost legal minds. She’s an acclaimed legal scholar with a rich understanding of constitutional law. She is a former White House aide, with a life- long commitment to public service and a firm grasp of the nexus and boundaries between our three branches of government,” Obama said.
Kagan served in the Clinton White House.