US President Barack Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan (pictured), a political moderate, on Monday to serve on the Supreme Court. Kagan's appointment must still be approved by the Senate.
AFP - President Barack Obama Monday nominated "trailblazing" legal scholar Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court, pledging to make the conservative-dominated bench more reflective of America than ever before.
Kagan was the second woman Obama had picked for the court, after installing the first Hispanic Justice Sonia Sotomayor last year, and if confirmed by the Senate, she will be the first non-judge to reach the summit of US Justice in four decades.
"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.
He said he was pleased that Kagan would be the third woman on the current bench, saying he was committed to shaping the nine-justice Supreme Court to be "more inclusive, more representative, more reflective of us as a people than ever before."
Democrats praised Kagan, 50, who would replace liberal standard bearer John Paul Stevens who is retiring after 34 years, as "razor sharp" and impeccably qualified for the lifetime appointment.
But Republicans promised to vigorously vet what they termed a "surprising" choice, citing her lack of judicial pedigree, and warning she may try to misintepret laws for political reasons rather than sticking to the letter of the Constitution.
"Elena is widely regarded as one of the nation's foremost legal minds," Obama said, referring to his pick as "my friend."
"She is a trailblazing leader, said Obama, arguing Kagan's "fair-mindedness" and "skill as a consensus builder" would replace some of the wisdom lost with the retirement of the court's retiring top liberal Stevens.
Vice President Joe Biden's chief of staff Ron Klain, who took part in the nominee search, said Kagan would probably have to recuse herself from around 18 cases before the court that she had worked to prepare as solicitor general.
Klain described her as "pragmatic" and clearly a "progressive," apparently hoping that liberal groups would see in Kagan a similar vein to Stevens, 90, who had served for 34 years.
Kagan thanked Obama for the "honor of a lifetime" and said she "so loved the law."
"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; they hope to turn it 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 warned Kagan may not get the same easy confirmation ride as she got as solicitor general.
"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," he said.
Some liberal and legal interest groups had pressured the president to choose someone from outside the "judicial monastery" and may favor Obama's pick, which was widely flagged in advance.
Others 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 in 1986. Among her jobs, she clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, before entering private practice from 1989 to 1991.
She and Obama were professors of law in Chicago, and Kagan worked in former US president Bill Clinton's administration.
Date created : 2010-05-10