A year after Bronx native Sonia Sotomayor became the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court, the Senate confirmed Manhattanite Elena Kagan as the 112th justice and fourth woman on the country’s high court.
The vote was 63-37 for President Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed retired Justice John Paul Stevens.
Five Republicans joined all but one Democrat and the Senate’s two independents to support Kagan, who was born and raised on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In a rarely practiced ritual reserved for the most historic votes, senators sat at their desks and stood to cast their votes with “ayes” and “nays.”
Kagan isn’t expected to alter the ideological balance of the court, where Stevens was considered a leader of the liberals.
But the two parties clashed over her nomination. Republicans argued that Kagan was a political liberal who would be unable to be impartial. Democrats defended her as a highly qualified legal scholar.
She is the first Supreme Court nominee in nearly 40 years with no experience as a judge, and her swearing-in will mark the first time in history that three women will serve on the nine-member court together.
Her lack of judicial experience was the stated reason for one fence-sitting Republican, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, to announce his opposition to her confirmation Thursday, just hours before the vote.
Though calling her “brilliant,” Brown – who had been seen as a potential GOP supporter – said she was missing the necessary background to serve as a justice.
“The best umpires, to use the popular analogy, must not only call balls and strikes, but also have spent enough time on the playing field to know the strike zone,” Brown said.