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Obama chooses Elena Kagan for Supreme Court

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« on: May 10, 2010, 11:11:52 am »

Obama chooses Elena Kagan for Supreme Court
By the CNN Wire Staff
May 10, 2010 10:50 a.m. EDT

Wolf Blitzer will have the latest on President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, as well as a full analysis of what she will bring to the court. Watch "The Situation Room" today at 5 p.m. ET on CNN.

Washington (CNN) -- President Obama took a key step in cementing his judicial legacy Monday, nominating Solicitor General Elena Kagan to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court.

If confirmed, the 50-year-old Kagan will become the 112th Supreme Court justice. She would be the third woman on the nine-member bench and the fourth in the history of the court. Her confirmation also would mean that the Supreme Court would have no Protestant justices for the first time in its history. Kagan, who is Jewish, would join six Catholic and two Jewish justices; Stevens is Protestant.

Kagan, a native New Yorker, was widely reported to be the front-runner for the nomination. She was a finalist for the high court vacancy last year when Justice Sonia Sotomayor was selected to replace the retiring David Souter.

Kagan received her law degree from Harvard University, where she later served as dean of the law school. She previously served in the Clinton administration as associate White House counsel.

Video: Kagan thankful for 'special honor'

Video: Kagan called consensus builder

Video: Who is Elena Kagan?

Fast facts: Elena Kagan
U.S. Supreme Court
Elena Kagan
Harvard University
John Roberts (Chief Justice)
Barack Obama
Kagan is a "trailblazing leader" who is "open to a broad array of viewpoints" and is a proven "consensus builder," Obama said at the White House.

Kagan, in turn, said she was "honored" and "humbled" by what she called "the honor of a lifetime."

"The court is an extraordinary institution," she said. It allows "all Americans ... to get a fair hearing and an equal chance at justice."

Obama decided on Kagan as his nominee on Sunday and called her around 8 p.m., a source close to the process said.

He did not have to look far when considering Kagan. As solicitor general, she is the administration's top lawyer before the Supreme Court and has argued several high-profile cases before the justices since taking the job in spring 2009.

"You have to admit, Elena Kagan is a brilliant woman," Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said during a radio interview a year ago when Kagan was being vetted for a high court seat. "She is a brilliant lawyer. If [Obama] picks her, it is a real dilemma for people," especially conservatives.

"And she will undoubtedly say that she will abide by the rule of law."

Her confirmation hearings for the solicitor general job could offer a preview of what she can expect from both Democrats and Republicans. Many saw it as a dress rehearsal of sorts for a high court job.

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham told Kagan she presented a "positive impression." Democrats were similarly enthused.

With that endorsement, she won confirmation for her current job by a 61-31 vote.

A number of conservative groups were less enamored.

"Among Supreme Court nominees over the last 50 years or more, Kagan may well be the nominee with the least amount of relevant experience," said Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, former law clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, and former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kagan had never argued a case before the Supreme Court or any appeals court before she became solicitor general about a year ago.

"Solicitor General Kagan has been nominated with no judicial experience, a mere two years of private law practice, and only a year as solicitor general of the United States," said David McIntosh, co-founder of the Federalist Society -- a conservative and libertarian legal group -- and former congressman from Indiana. "She is one of the most inexperienced nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court in recent memory."

Kagan's position on gays in the military is virtually certain to generate controversy during her confirmation hearings. She has been strongly criticized by conservatives for her efforts to block military recruiters from Harvard because of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The policy, first enacted during the Clinton administration but opposed by Obama, prohibits homosexuals from serving openly in the armed forces.

While serving as dean at Harvard Law, Kagan said she "abhorred" the military's "discriminatory recruitment policy." She called it "a profound wrong -- a moral injustice of the first order."

Kagan supported other schools challenging a federal law requiring them to give recruiters equal access or face the loss of federal funding. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the law in 2006.

Some liberal organizations, on the other hand, have expressed concern over Kagan's views on executive power. As chief defender of the administration's anti-terrorism strategy, Kagan has articulated a more robust defense of the White House than many civil rights and human rights groups would like.

Observers on both sides of the political aisle have noted that Kagan has a relatively short paper trail compared to other recent Supreme Court nominees.

Kagan grew up in a Jewish household on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She went to Princeton University and Harvard Law School. She served as a law clerk for federal judge Abner Mikva and then for Justice Thurgood Marshall on the high court.

In her 1986 job application to Marshall, she matter-of-factly told the civil rights pioneer, "I would be honored to serve as your clerk." The nation's first African-American justice affectionately called the diminutive Kagan "Shorty."

Kagan later went into teaching, starting at the University of Chicago, where one of the part-time faculty was Obama. Also teaching at the time was Diane Wood, who later became a federal judge and also was a finalist for the current high court vacancy. Kagan and Wood were among the few women on the full-time faculty at that time.

President Clinton later named Kagan associate White House counsel and then appointed her to the influential Domestic Policy Council, where she earned a reputation for articulate and well-reasoned statements on tricky political issues. She was the administration's point person on passing anti-tobacco legislation, negotiating in 1998 with Republican Sen. John McCain to give the federal government the authority to control cigarettes, as it does pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Clinton picked her in 1999 for the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. But no Senate confirmation hearings were held, and the nomination lapsed. The seat was later filled by John Roberts, who quickly used the appointment as a springboard to chief justice.

Named Harvard's dean in 2003, Kagan earned a reputation for soothing longstanding tensions over a perceived liberal tilt to the faculty and curriculum.

She began pushing for the appointment of conservative professors, including Jack Goldsmith, who had been a lawyer in President George W. Bush's Justice Department. Such hires eased ideological unrest on the Harvard campus.

CNN's Bill Mears and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.
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