Describing Elena Kagan as an academic "whose passion for the law is anything but academic," President Barack Obama this morning said he will nominate Kagan, the first female solicitor general of the United States, to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the East Room of the White House, crowded with Kagan supporters and family, the president called his nominee "one of the foremost legal minds" in the country and a "trailblazing leader" who, in addition to being the first female solicitor general, also was the first woman to head Harvard Law School.
If confirmed, Kagan, 50, would take the seat being vacated by retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. She would be the third woman on the current Court, joining Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor and she would be the only non-judge to sit on the high court. Senate hearings on her nomination are expected to take place in late June.
In addition to her academic career and public service, Kagan is also respected for her temperament, said the president, adding that she approaches issues and problems by "understanding before disagreeing."
Although Kagan could have chosen a comfortable life within a law firm, he said, "She chose a life of service, service to her students, service to her country." And stressing a theme he has repeated publicly when speaking about the Supreme Court, he said Kagan understands how law affects ordinary citizens.
Speaking briefly after the president’s announcement, Kagan called herself "honored and humbled" by the nomination. She said she felt "blessed" throughout her life to have represented the nation as solicitor general and to have clerked for the late Justice Thurgood Marshall and former federal appellate judge, Abner Mikva.
"Through most of my professional life, I’ve had the joy of teaching," she added, explaining that "law matters, it keeps us safe, it is the foundation of our democracy."
The White House this morning said the president made a decision to nominate Kagan on Sunday. Throughout the weekend, his confirmation team worked off of rollout scenarios for multiple candidates. At 8 p.m. on Sunday, the president called Kagan to inform her that she had been selected as the nominee. He then called others on his "short list" of potential nominees -- Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow, Judge Merrick Garland, Judge Diane Wood, and Judge Sidney Thomas -- to inform them of his decision.
The president this morning also called and spoke with Senate leaders about his decision. Reaction swiftly followed the nomination from both ends of the political spectrum with at least one GOP member of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- Jon Kyl of Arizona -- raising concerns about Kagan’s lack of judicial experience.
Nan Aron, head of the liberal Alliance for Justice, said, "Along with her sterling academic and professional qualifications, [Kagan] will bring to the Court a respect for core constitutional values and a willingness to stand up for the rights of ordinary Americans. Her appointment also represents an historic step forward as women continue to take their rightful place on the highest court in the land."
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the conservative American Center for Law & Justice, said, "This is the beginning of an important, deliberative process in which the American people deserve to know where Elena Kagan stands on the Constitution and the rule of law. The fact that Elena Kagan has no previous judicial experience underscores the importance of closely examining her judicial philosophy -- will she abide by the Constitution, or will she take an activist view?"
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.