Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Elena Kagan confirmed as U.S. Supreme Court justice

WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Elena Kagan as the 112th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday, creating a historic, liberal, three-woman bloc likely to vote together much of the time.

But the 63-37 vote suggested that the bitter partisan divide that has recently plagued legislative efforts on Capitol Hill is increasingly infecting the high court nomination process.

Kagan, the daughter of a tenants' lawyer and a teacher who was raised in New York City's Upper West Side, worked in the Clinton White House and headed the faculty at Harvard Law School before joining the Obama administration as its advocate before the Supreme Court. She watched Thursday's Senate proceedings with her colleagues at the solicitor general's office.

Only five Republicans crossed party lines to support Kagan, four fewer than the number of Republicans who voted last year to confirm Justice Sonia Sotomayor. As a result, the tally in Kagan's favor ranks among the lowest among justices in recent history, despite support from some prominent legal conservatives.

Kagan, 50, the solicitor general, replaces retired Justice John Paul Stevens and will serve as the nation's fourth female justice. When she is sworn in at a ceremony at the Supreme Court on Saturday, three women will sit on the court for the first time.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called that achievement "a milestone that is long overdue."

President Barack Obama, who named Kagan to the court in May, praised the Senate vote. "Today's vote wasn't just an affirmation of Elena's intellect and accomplishments. It was also an affirmation of her character and her temperament; her open-mindedness and even-handedness; her determination to hear all sides of every story and consider all possible arguments," he said.

Because of the commanding majority Democrats hold in the Senate, Kagan's confirmation was almost never in doubt. But most Republicans opposed her despite their struggle to find a line of attack that captured the public's attention. Democrats contended that the GOP's opposition to Kagan came less a result of her qualifications and more as a product of a sustained strategy to obstruct the president's agenda at every turn.

"There is no one President Obama could have nominated who would not be opposed by some," Leahy said on the floor before the vote.

Republicans, however, countered that Kagan's lack of judicial and courtroom experience, as well as her background as a lawyer and policy adviser in the Clinton and Obama administrations, rendered her unfit for the court. They argued she would view cases through the lens of a political progressive.

Kagan is "someone who has worked tirelessly to advance a political ideology — often at the expense of the law," Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate minority leader, argued before the vote.

The final vote came after 12 weeks of consideration and three days of floor debate. To mark the significance of the occasion, senators voted while staying at their desks in the Senate chamber. The Republicans who supported Kagan were Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Richard Lugar of Indiana. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the only Democrat to oppose her.

Florida lawmakers followed their party line. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted for Kagan; Republican Sen. George LeMieux voted against her confirmation.

"I am left without a solid base on which to judge how she would judge," LeMieux said in a floor speech that echoed other Republicans. "She has failed to meet the burden that is required of someone with no judicial record."

The vote in Kagan's favor served as a rebuke of sorts of the National Rifle Association, which implored senators to reject her over concerns about her views on gun rights. The powerful lobby had warned it would retaliate against her supporters in the coming congressional elections.

Kagan was also criticized for her efforts as dean of Harvard's Law School to bar military recruiters from using career services resources at the school over opposition to the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gay and lesbian soldiers.

Opinion polls showed lukewarm public support for the nominee, but in the end, none of the GOP's lines of attack could torpedo the nomination. But Kagan became the third consecutive high court pick, after Sotomayor and Justice Samuel Alito in 2006, to receive fewer than a three-fourths majority in the Senate, a trend that suggests that, in a departure from historical practice, the nominations are becoming increasingly politicized and that nominees are now being treated like contentious pieces of legislation.

St. Petersburg Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report.


Elena Kagan

. Age: 50, born April 28, 1960, in New York City.

. Career highlights: U.S. solicitor general, 2009-present; dean, Harvard Law School, 2003-09; deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton for domestic policy and deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council, 1997-99; private practice, 1989-91; law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, 1987-88

. Education: Princeton University, bachelor's, 1981; Worcester College at Oxford, master's, 1983; Harvard Law School, law degree, 1986.

. Up next: She will be sworn in at the Supreme Court on Saturday. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. will do the honors.

Elena Kagan confirmed as U.S. Supreme Court justice 08/05/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 5, 2010 10:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Watch: Provocateur targets CNN producer with hidden camera video


    NEW YORK —A conservative provocateur posted a video Tuesday of a man identified as a CNN producer commenting on his network's coverage of President Donald Trump and connections to Russia.

    Anthony Scaramucci, a senior adviser to President-elect Donald Trump, talks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. [Associated Press]
  2. Protesters demand Confederate statue be moved from old Hillsborough courthouse


    TAMPA – Politicians, clergy and community leaders demanded Tuesday that the Hillsborough County commission reverse course and remove a Confederate monument from the old county courthouse.

    (From left) Mike Reed, Kristen Perry and Dayna Lazarus hold protest signs Tuesday in front of a Confederate monument on the grounds of Hillsborough County's old courthouse. Protesters want the statue removed. ALESSANDRA DA PRA   Times]
  3. Man charged with threatening Florida lawmaker on Facebook


    From The Associated Press:

    MIAMI — A Florida man has been charged with threatening to kill a state legislator in a Facebook post. 

    This booking photo released by the Miami-Dade Police Department shows Steve St. Felix, who has been charged with threatening to kill Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in a Facebook post.
  4. Joe Maddon: What my time in Tampa Bay meant, and still means, to me

    The Heater

    Editor's note: The Rays next week in Chicago will meet up for the first time with former manager Joe Maddon, who is in his third year leading the Cubs after nine with the Rays. In advance of the Tuesday-Wednesday series, we asked Maddon to share his thoughts in a column on what his time in Tampa Bay meant to …

    Joe Maddon waits to greet B.J. Upton after Upton's home run in Game 2 of the ALCS in 2008 at Tropicana Field. [Times files (2008)]
  5. First WannaCry, now cyberattack Petya spreads from Russia to Britain


    Computer systems from Russia to Britain were victims of an international cyberattack Tuesday in a hack that bore similarities to a recent one that crippled tens of thousands of machines worldwide.

    A computer screen cyberattack warning notice reportedly holding computer files to ransom, as part of a massive international cyberattack, at an office in Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday.  A new and highly virulent outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software appears to be causing mass disruption across Europe.
[Oleg Reshetnyak via AP]