US solicitor general may now serve its top court

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama nominated US solicitor general Elena Kagan, who has close ties to Democratic power brokers, for the Supreme Court yesterday.

Kagan, 50, who argues the US government's case before the court in her current job, would replace retiring John Paul Stevens, 90, the court's leading liberal, if she is confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

A former Harvard law professor with close ties to Obama and Democratic leaders, Kagan would be the fourth woman to serve on the top US court, and the president's second pick after he chose Justice Sonia Sotomayor last year.

She would also become the youngest member of the court and, given her advocacy experience, may have the potential to emerge as a persuasive voice who could bridge the gaps between its liberal and conservative wings.

"She has an excellent chance, and she would be terrific," Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe said.

"She has a masterful command of so many areas of law. And she's been vetted and recently confirmed. Her writing is not voluminous, which is also a plus," he said.

A high-powered legal scholar and veteran of former president Bill Clinton's White House, Kagan, unlike most Supreme Court picks, has not served for years as a judge, meaning she has no damaging legal paper trail that could derail her confirmation.

She is also said to have cultivated ties with conservatives, which could help her confirmation prospects.

Through his Supreme-Court picks, Obama can wield influence on US politics, law and the social direction for years after he leaves office.

Kagan would not likely, however, change the ideological balance of the court, which is weighted towards conservatives. Republicans may make a show of opposing the nomination, but many observers believe she is likely to win Senate confirmation.

Kagan was confirmed to serve as solicitor general last year by 61 votes to 31 in the Senate. - Sapa-AFP