The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to confirm Elena Kagan as a justice to the Supreme Court of the United States. The vote was 63 to 37. As expected, the vote for President Barack Obama's High Court nominee split largely along party lines, with only five Republicans and all but one Democratic senator voting to confirm Kagan.
The outcome of the vote was never in doubt, say analysts, because Democrats hold a majority in the Senate and needed only 50 votes to confirm Elena Kagan. But there still was impassioned debate this week on the Senate floor, with Democrats and Republicans painting very different pictures of the nominee.
Democrats praised Kagan as a highly qualified legal scholar with a brilliant mind and a great love of the law.
Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland said, "And when Elena Kagan is confirmed, she will, for the first time in America's history, be the third woman out of nine on the Supreme Court of the United States. I think that is going to give us more common sense justice in this nation, and certainly one that reflects the diversity of our country."
But most Republican senators expressed concerns that Kagan would be influenced by her liberal political views if she were to rule on controversial issues such as homosexual rights, gun ownership laws and abortion. Some also criticized Kagan's lack of judicial experience.
Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama has been one of Kagan's leading critics in the Senate. He said he fears that Kagan will use her position to advance her political agenda.
"I think that this nominee is indeed of that background, that she is not sufficiently respectful of the plain words of the Constitution, will be the kind of activist judge that seeks to advance their vision of what America should be, and that that is not an appropriate approach for a judge on the Supreme Court to take," said Sessions.
During the confirmation hearings, Kagan promised to set aside her personal political views in deciding cases that come before the Supreme Court. Kagan came under fire for her decision as dean of Harvard University Law School to limit access by U.S. military recruiters' to students on campus. Kagan said the limits were justified under the school's anti-discrimination policy because the military bars service by people who are openly gay.
Some Democratic senators countered that the current Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, is too conservative, and they accused the court's conservative majority of making politically-motivated rulings that favor special interests and large corporations.
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York said, "This conservative majority has become the most activist court, certainly in decades. These truly activist decisions show little respect for Congress, for the Executive Branch and for the well-settled understandings that American people commonly hold about our democracy. And yet, they label Elena Kagan as an activist because she wants to follow precedent. That is not fair and that is not true."
Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was one of a few senators who crossed party lines to vote for Kagan. Speaking at a Judiciary Committee hearing, Graham said voters elected Barack Obama to be president and that the president gets to nominate the justices of his choosing to the Supreme Court.
"I am going to vote for her because I believe the last election had consequences. And this president chose someone who is qualified, who has the experience and knowledge to serve on this court, who is the mainstream of liberal philosophy and understands the difference between being a liberal judge and a politician," said Graham.
President Obama nominated Kagan to fill the seat of retired Justice John Paul Stevens who was a leading liberal on the court for more than three decades. Legal experts say Kagan's confirmation is unlikely to change the nine-member court's ideological balance - one in which conservatives now often prevail over liberals in five-to-four decisions.