President Barack Obama has nominated U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan to be an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, to replace Associate Justice John Paul Stevens who is retiring.
If confirmed, Kagan would become the 112th justice of the Supreme Court, and the fourth woman to join the court in its 221-year history. This would mark the first time three woman would be serving at on the court at the same time.
The others are Ruth Bader Ginsburg, appointed by former president Bill Clinton, and Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court pick, confirmed by the Senate in 2009.
With roots in New York City, Kagan is an experienced lawyer who was confirmed by the Senate last year in a 61 to 31 vote as Solicitor General, the nation's chief advocate arguing before the Supreme Court. A former dean of the Harvard University Law School, at age 50 she would also be the youngest justice.
In a White House East Room ceremony, President Obama praised Kagan as an acclaimed legal scholar with a passion for the law and respect for a diversity of views.
"Elena is respected and admired not just for her intellect and record of achievement, but also for her temperament, her openness to a broad array of viewpoints," said President Obama. "Her habit, to borrow a phrase from [retiring Supreme Court associate justice John Paul Stevens] of understanding before disagreeing, her fair mindedness and skill at consensus-building."
Thanking the president for nominating her, Kagan paid tribute to John Paul Stevens, whose coming retirement created the vacancy she will fill if confirmed, and she laid out her view of the role of the court.
"The court is an extraordinary institution, in the work it does, and the work it can do for the American people, by advancing the tenants of our constitution, by upholding the rule of law and by enabling all Americans regardless of their background or their beliefs to get a fair hearing and an equal chance at justice," said Rlena Kagan.
This is the first time in nearly four decades a president has nominated someone without prior judicial experience to serve on the Supreme Court, the last time being under President Richard Nixon in 1972.
Amid the current highly-partisan political atmosphere in Congress, legal analysts predict opposition Republicans will raise her lack of judicial experience, although she is generally seen as highly qualified.
As Harvard Law School dean, Kagan joined a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court arguing that law schools should be able to bar U.S. military recruiters from campus because of the government's don't-ask, don't-tell policy barring gays from serving openly.
Kagan also argued for the government in the Citizens United case, in which the Supreme Court in a five to four decision mirroring its ideological divisions held that the government could not limit campaign expenditures from corporations in the period immediately before an election, a decision President Obama sharply criticized.
On Capitol Hill, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will consider her nomination, said Kagan's nomination hearing will be "thorough and complete", adding he hopes Republicans will not use it to score political points.
"That process should be an opportunity for all Americans to learn about the impact of the court's decisions on our lives, not as a venue for partisan political attacks on the president's nominee," said Senator Leahy.
A key Judiciary Committee Republican, Senator Orrin Hatch, said while he has an open mind on Kagan's confirmation process, beyond having an impressive resume is "the more important qualification of judicial philosophy."