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Senate confirms Kagan as 112th justice

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Senate confirms Kagan as 112th justice
Senate confirms Elena Kagan as 112th justice of the Supreme Court

Friday, August 6, 2010

The U.S. Senate confirmed Elena Kagan Thursday as the Supreme Court’s 112th justice and the fourth woman in its history, granting a lifetime term to a lawyer and academic with a reputation for brilliance, a dry sense of humour and a liberal bent.

The vote was 63-37 for President Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed retired Justice John Paul Stevens.

Five Republicans joined all but one Democrat and the Senate’s two independents to support Kagan. In a rarely practiced ritual reserved for the most historic votes, senators sat at their desks and stood to cast their votes with “ayes” and “nays.”

Kagan watched on television in the conference room at the solicitor general’s office, with her Justice Department colleagues looking on. She is to be sworn in Saturday afternoon at the court by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Obama, travelling in Chicago, said Kagan will make an outstanding justice who understands that her rulings affect people and called the addition of another woman to the court a sign of progress for the country. He invited Kagan to the White House for a ceremony Friday marking her confirmation.

The vote, Obama said, was “an affirmation of her character and her temperament; her open-mindedness and evenhandedness; her determination to hear all sides of every story and consider all possible arguments.”

Kagan is not expected to alter the ideological balance of the court, where Stevens was considered a leader of the liberal wing. But the two parties clashed over her nomination and the court itself. Republicans argued that Kagan was a politically motivated activist who would be unable to put aside her opinions and rule impartially. Democrats defended her as a highly qualified trailblazer for women who could bring a note of moderation and real-world experience to a polarized court they said was dominated by just the kind of activists the GOP denounced.

Kagan is the first Supreme Court nominee in nearly 40 years with no experience as a judge, and her swearing-in will mark the first time in history that three women will serve on the nine-member court together.

Her lack of judicial experience was the stated reason for one fence-sitting Republican, Sen. Scott Brown, to announce his opposition to Kagan’s confirmation Thursday, just hours before the vote.

Though calling her “brilliant,” Brown, who had been seen as a potential supporter from the minority party, said she was missing the necessary background to serve as a justice.

“The best umpires, to use the popular analogy, must not only call balls and strikes, but also have spent enough time on the playing field to know the strike zone,” Brown said.

Democrats said they hoped Kagan would act as a counterweight to the conservative majority that has dominated the Supreme Court in recent years.

“I believe she understands that judges and justices must realize how the law affects Americans each and every day. That understanding is fundamental,” said Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman. With her confirmation, he said, “the Supreme Court will better reflect the diversity that made our country great.”

Most Republicans portrayed Kagan as a partisan who will use her post from the bench to push the Democratic agenda.

Kagan “is truly a person of the political left – now they call themselves progressives – one who has a history of working to advance the values of the left wing of the Democratic Party, and whose philosophy of judging allows a judge to utilize the power of their office to advance their vision for what America should be,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

Just one Democrat – centrist Sen. Ben Nelson – crossed party lines to oppose Kagan.

A handful of mostly moderate Republicans broke with their party to back her: Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham, retiring Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar.

They argued that partisanship should play no role in debates over the Supreme Court and have called Obama’s nominee qualified.
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