U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated his administration's top lawyer, Elena Kagan, to be a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kagan, a moderate liberal, served as legal counsel to former President Bill Clinton and was the first female dean of Harvard Law School.
Kagan's nomination comes after 90-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement from the Court after nearly 35 years. Stevens led the Court's liberal bloc and plans to retire this summer, at the end of the Court's current term.
Obama hailed Kagan as "one of the nation's foremost legal minds" in announcing her nomination this morning.
"While we can't presume to replace Justice Stevens' wisdom or experience, I have selected a nominee who I believe embodies that same excellence, independence, integrity, and passion for the law and who can, ultimately, provide that same kind of leadership on the court," Obama said.
If her nomination is confirmed by the Senate, the 50-year-old Kagan would become the Supreme Court's youngest judge.
She would also bring the number of women on the nine-member Court to three -- a historic first.
Obama and Kagan taught together at the University of Chicago Law School in the early 1990s before Kagan became associate White House counsel to President Clinton.
Later, she joined the faculty of the Harvard University's prestigious law school, eventually becoming its first female dean. At Harvard, Kagan earned a reputation for bridging ideological gaps by recruiting conservative legal scholars to help balance the school's liberal bent.
Analysts say that in choosing his Supreme Court nominee, Obama particularly wanted someone who could provide leadership and help sway fellow justices toward a majority opinion.
He called Kagan a "consensus-builder," and urged a speedy, bipartisan confirmation of her post -- despite the current fiercely partisan political climate in Washington.
In 2009, Kagan received the support of several Republican lawmakers when she was confirmed as solicitor general, the lawyer who represents the U.S. government and defends acts of Congress before the Supreme Court.
At this morning's announcement, she said her year of experience arguing cases before the Court has prepared her to become a justice.
"During the last year, as I have served as solicitor general, my long-standing appreciation for the Supreme Court's role in our constitutional democracy has become ever deeper and richer," Kagan said. "The court is an extraordinary institution in the work it does and in the work it can do for the American people."
In her first case as solicitor general, Kagan argued against allowing corporations and special interest groups greatly expanded rights to spend money in support of their favored candidate.
In a controversial ruling, the Supreme Court narrowly voted against Kagan's arguments, a decision that Obama openly criticized.
While Republicans have shown no signs in advance that they would try to prevent a vote on Kagan in the Democrat-led chamber, they are certain to question her experience and thin record of legal writings.
Despite Kagan's deep experience in academia and law, she would be the first Supreme Court justice without any judicial experience in almost 40 years.
In 1999, she was nominated by former President Clinton for an appeals judge post, but Republican senators refused to take up the nomination.
This is the second time Obama has made a selection for the nation's highest court since becoming president in January 2009.
Last year, he nominated Sonia Sotomayor, who became the court's first Hispanic justice.
Legal analysts say Obama hopes Kagan will join Sotomayor in bolstering the liberal bloc of the conservative-leaning court.
Supreme Court justices have lifetime tenure.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said he aims to have Kagan confirmed by early August, which would be in time for her to join the court for the start of its session in October.
compiled from agency reports