Obama nominates Kagan for Supreme Court

By Caren Bohan and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – President Barack Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan for the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, calling her a consensus-builder who has championed the rights of ordinary citizens.

In choosing the 50-year-old former Harvard Law School dean for a lifetime appointment to the court, Obama picked a moderate who court watchers said is unlikely to provoke a damaging Senate confirmation battle in a congressional election year.

Kagan has never been a judge and has served only one year as solicitor general, a post in which she argues cases on behalf of the U.S. government before the Supreme Court.

Obama called Kagan a fair-minded choice who is skilled as a “consensus-builder” and called for swift, bipartisan approval. He chose her to replace retiring 90-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens, a leading liberal voice on the highest U.S. court.

Experts said Kagan could be expected to pass fairly smoothly through the Senate confirmation process, which can be fraught with political peril. Kagan has been through one Senate confirmation already — she was confirmed last year for her current job.

Kagan would not be expected to change the court’s overall ideological balance. The court is controlled by a five-member conservative majority that is likely to remain in place for years given the justices’ relative youth.

Every aspect of her professional and personal life will now come under scrutiny from Republicans seeking to score political points. But Kagan’s confirmation hearing is unlikely to distract from other Obama administration priorities like jobs creation, financial reform and climate change legislation.

One of those voting for her last year was Senator Jon Kyl, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican and a member of the Judiciary Committee that will hold hearings on her nomination. Kyl told CNN on Monday it was “highly unlikely” that Republicans will mount a filibuster — a procedural roadblock needing 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to clear — to try to block her.

But Republicans made clear they will not give her rubber-stamp approval. They called attention to her limited judicial experience and said she lacks real-world experience.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell criticized her “brief litigation experience.”

“Fulfilling our duty to advise and consent on a nomination to this office requires a thorough process, not a rush to judgment,” McConnell added.

‘ORDINARY PEOPLE’

“Ms. Kagan has spent her entire professional career in Harvard Square, Hyde Park and the DC Beltway. These are not places where one learns ‘how ordinary people live,'” added Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas.

As solicitor general, Kagan has “repeatedly defended the rights of shareholders and ordinary citizens against unscrupulous corporations,” Obama said during a White House East Room ceremony.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, said he aims to have Kagan confirmed by early August, in time for her to join the court in its autumn session.

The high court decides contentious social issues such as abortion and the death penalty and high-stakes business disputes.

Kagan could face vigorous questioning by Republicans on hot-button issues such as her opposition to on-campus military recruiting at Harvard because of U.S. policy barring gays from serving openly in the armed forces.

Obama quickly raised an issue that is a bone of contention between him and U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts. It was the 5-4 Citizens United ruling in January forged by the court’s conservative majority that allows corporations, unions and other groups to spend unlimited sums of money on U.S. political campaigns.

It was to Kagan’s credit, he said, that she chose the Citizens United case to oppose before the high court.

“It says a great deal about her commitment to protect our fundamental rights, because in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voice of ordinary citizens,” Obama said.

Kagan was approved 61-31 last year for her current position, with seven Republicans voting for her. Democrats control 59 of the 100 Senate seats. A simple majority is needed for confirmation to the Supreme Court.

As solicitor general, she has a mixed record in business cases. She supported shareholders in a case about excessive mutual fund fees and backed investors in their securities fraud lawsuit against Merck & Co Inc over its withdrawn Vioxx pain drug. But she opposed foreign investors who want to sue in U.S. courts for transnational securities dealings.

If confirmed, Kagan would become the third woman currently on the nine-member court, joining Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She would be the fourth ever to serve on the court. She is Obama’s second nominee to the court. His first, Sotomayor, was confirmed by the Senate last year, becoming the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

Some legal experts said she is not as liberal as Stevens and theoretically could move the court a bit to the right.

Liberal groups appeared ready to support Kagan, though she was not the first choice for several of them.

Obama interviewed at least four people for the vacancy, including federal appeals court judges Diane Wood, Merrick Garland and Sidney Thomas. Kagan was considered one of the more moderate choices on Obama’s short list of potential court nominees.

Republicans are trying to win back control of Congress from Obama’s Democrats in November congressional elections.

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(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Jim Vicini, Thomas Ferraro and Ross Colvin)

Obama nominates Kagan for Supreme Court