Washington: US lawmakers were sorting
through legal scholar Elena Kagan`s thin legal paper trail
today ahead of contentious hearings to vet President Barack
Obama`s latest Supreme Court nominee.
Kagan was the second woman Obama has picked for the
court, after he installed the first Hispanic Justice Sonia
Sotomayor last year.
If confirmed by the Senate, she will be the first
non-judge to reach the summit of US justice in four decades.
"I have selected a nominee who I believe embodies...
excellence, independence, integrity and passion for the law,
and who can ultimately provide that same kind of leadership on
the court," Obama said yesterday in announcing his choice.
Her relative youth at 50 -- which would make her the
youngest justice on the bench -- means she could help shape
the law toward Obama`s more progressive stance for a
generation if the Senate confirms her lifetime appointment.
She would be the third woman serving consecutively on the
Supreme Court -- the most ever. The court`s first female
justice, Sandra Day O`Connor, retired in 2006.
Democrats praised Kagan, who would replace liberal
standard bearer John Paul Stevens when he retires later this
year, as "razor sharp" and impeccably qualified. And Senate
Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Lehay urged for her
confirmation before the congressional August recess.
But Republicans promised to vigorously vet what they
termed a "surprising" choice, citing her lack of judicial
pedigree and warning she may try to misinterpret laws for
political reasons rather than stick to the letter of the
"Elena is widely regarded as one of the nation`s foremost
legal minds," said Obama, a Harvard Law School alumnus, of his
pick, a former dean of the school.
"She is a trailblazing leader," he said, arguing Kagan`s
"fair-mindedness" and "skill as a consensus builder" would
replace some of the wisdom lost with top liberal Stevens, who
is retiring after a 34-year career at the top court.
Vice President Joe Biden`s chief of staff Ron Klain, who
took part in the nominee search, said Kagan would probably
have to recuse herself from around 18 court cases she had
worked to prepare as solicitor general.
Klain described her as "pragmatic" and clearly a
"progressive", in an apparent bid to depict the more centrist
Kagan in a similar vein to Stevens, 90, for liberal groups.
"It`s challenging and endlessly interesting... law
matters because it keeps us safe, because it protects our most
fundamental rights and freedoms, and because it is the
foundation of our democracy," Kagan said in thanking Obama
for the "honor of a lifetime."