President Barack Obama has named Elena Kagan, the current solicitor general of the United States, to be the next justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kagan, 50, is the former dean of Harvard Law School and currently serves as the country's top litigator. If confirmed, she would be the fourth woman to serve on the high court and the third woman on the current court.
Obama announced Kagan as his choice to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens from the East Room of the White House on Monday morning, saying she "embodies that same excellence, independence, integrity and passion for the law" as Stevens has during his many years on the court. Obama also called her "one of the foremost legal minds" in the country and "a trailblazing leader."
He also praised her judicial temperament and fair-mindedness and what he said is her appreciation for the effect the law has ordinary people.
"She is a great lawyer, a great teacher and a devoted public servant who will make an excellent Supreme Court justice," he said.
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Speaking after the president, Kagan called her nomination "the honor of a lifetime" and spoke of the importance of the rule of law in American society.
"The law matters," she said, "because it keeps us safe, because it protects the most fundamental rights and freedoms, and because it is the foundation of our democracy."
Kagan also noted the absence of her deceased parents, who were both the children of immigrants and the first in their families to attend college. Her father became a lawyer and her mother taught in New York's public schools.
"I pray every day that I live up to the example they set," she said.
A native of New York City, Kagan attended Princeton University and Oxford University in England, and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. In addition to having been the dean at Harvard Law -- the first woman to hold that post -- she was also a professor there and at the University of Chicago, where Obama was a constitutional law professor. She also clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and was in private law practice in Washington, D.C.
While her legal career has included top posts in academia, private practice and government service, Kagan has never been a judge. President Clinton nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1996, but the Republican Senate never considered her nomination.
Democrats consider Kagan's strongest credential, beyond her extensive resume, to be the fact that she was confirmed by the Senate in 2009 as the Justice Department's top litigator. The Senate voted, 61 to 31, to confirm her, with conservatives Tom Coburn, Orrin Hatch and Jon Kyl voting for her.
But on Monday morning, Hatch and Kyl both released statements warning that they will not automatically support Kagan's nomination this time. Sen. John Cornyn, another member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, painted her not as the ordinary American Kagan presented herself as Monday but as a member of Washington's liberal elite class. "She spent a lifetime at Harvard Square, Hyde Park or the D.C. Beltway," Cornyn said.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Kagan a "worthy nominee," while Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that he welcomed Kagan's nomination and had long wanted a nominee "from outside the judicial monastery."
With Kagan's White House nomination now official, attention will turn to Leahy's committee, which will review her qualifications and hold hearings on the nomination this summer.
If approved by the committee and confirmed by the Senate, Kagan would likely be seated on the first day of the court's fall session in October.