President Obama's nomination of Elena Kagan to be the 112th justice on the U.S. Supreme Court was met today with praise from Democrats and cautious skepticism from Republicans, who promised a vigorous election-year debate on judicial philosophy.
While most experts believe Kagan will face a relatively quick path to the bench, her nomination sets the stage for summer Senate confirmation hearings that are expected to showcase the political parties' ideological divide.
At least one Republican senator, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, has already pledged to oppose Kagan's nomination partly because of what he calls "her lack of impartiality when it comes to those who disagree with her position."
Obama praised Kagan earlier today as someone who would make an "outstanding justice" as the replacement for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, saying she embodies the same ideals of "excellence, independence, integrity and passion for the law" as held by the court's most liberal stalwart.
"She's a trailblazing leader," Obama said. "The first woman to serve as dean of Harvard Law School and one of its most successful and beloved deans in its history. And she is a superb solicitor general, our nation's chief lawyer, representing the American people's interests before the Supreme Court. The first woman in that position as well."
If confirmed, Kagan, 50, will also become the fourth woman ever to sit on the nation's highest court and mark the first time three women have shared the bench at once.
Obama praised Kagan's record of achievement as a lawyer and legal scholar and ability to win the praise of peers from across the aisle through her openness to diverse legal viewpoints.
"Her habit -- to borrow a phrase from Justice Stevens -- of understanding before disagreeing, her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus builder" has won her respect and admiration, Obama said.
For her part, Kagan said she is humbled by the nomination and honored to be following in Stevens' footsteps.
"The court is an extraordinary institution," she said, "in the work it does and the work it can do for the American people, by advancing the tenets of our Constitution, by upholding the rule of law, and by enabling all Americans regardless of their background or their beliefs to get a fair hearing and an equal chance at justice.
"Mr. President, I look forward to working with the Senate in the next stage of this process, and I thank you for the honor of a lifetime."
Under the Constitution, the Senate must confirm the president's nominations to the Supreme Court, a process that begins with hearings on the nominee's background and qualifications in the Judiciary Committee, which are expected to be held in July.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the committee, said today in no uncertain terms that he believes the administration's pick will reach the bench before the next term starts in October.
"She will be confirmed," Leahy said enthusiastically, praising Kagan for her experience outside the so-called "judicial monastery" from which most Supreme Court justices have hailed.
"The Senate has adequate time to thoroughly review Ms. Kagan's impressive qualifications and academic writings, as well as her court filings and oral arguments while she has served the national as solicitor general, and consider her nomination this summer," he said.