Updated: 5:04 p.m.
The Senate voted 63-37 to confirm Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon, making her the fourth female justice in U.S. history.
The largely partisan vote came nearly three months after President Barack Obama nominated Kagan to replace retired Justice John Paul Stevens. She joins two other women on the current court. Kagan has never served as a judge, making her the first justice to join the court without such experience since 1972, when the Senate confirmed Justice Lewis Powell and Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
Five Republicans — Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) — voted for her nomination, while Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) broke with his Democratic colleagues to vote “no.”
Kagan’s confirmation had been a foregone conclusion for weeks. Her Senate hearings, as well as the floor debate on her nomination, were virtually drama-free, even though Republicans tried to paint her as a partisan who would bring her political views to the bench.
Republicans did, however, score one small victory: They succeeded in keeping her total number of supporters to fewer than that of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Some 67 Senators voted to install Sotomayor last year.
Prior to the vote, Senate Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) lambasted Kagan and Obama, accusing them of pursuing an “elitist” progressive political agenda.
“This progressive, activist judicial philosophy strikes at the heart of our democracy and is a direct threat to our liberty. President Obama himself has said that judges must shed their neutral, constitutional role and impose upon the nation their broader vision of what America should be.’ And this is the kind of judge President Obama believes he has found in Ms. Kagan: someone who shares his big-government vision and is willing to advance it from the bench,” Sessions said in a statement.
“Indeed, throughout Ms. Kagan’s career, she has put her politics above the law,” he continued.
Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sought to highlight the historic nature of Kagan’s nomination.
“When she is appointed, three women will serve together on the United States Supreme Court for the first time in our history. As I said five and a half weeks ago when the Judiciary Committee began Solicitor General Kagan’s confirmation hearing, we are a better country for the fact that the path of excellence Elena Kagan has taken in her career is one now open to both men and women,” Leahy said in a statement.
“With Elena Kagan’s confirmation, the Supreme Court will better reflect the diversity that has made our country great. We will write another chapter in the history of our Nation’s highest court. And we will take a significant step forward in fulfilling the hopes and dreams of the trailblazers who set the path for Elena Kagan to follow,” he said.
Judiciary Committee Democrats hailed Kagan’s confirmation, arguing that she will bring balance to an increasingly conservative Supreme Court.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Kagan’s experience in dealing with conservatives and liberals alike makes her “someone who can bring people together.”
Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) said “her intellect and her quick wit will be a big help.”
Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said that he believes the court’s conservatives have launched an effort to steer the court toward the right and that he hopes Kagan can act as a counterweight. “What we’ve seen on the court recently is a new form of judicial activism, judicial activism of the far right,” Schumer said. “… I hope she can prevent this judicial activism of the right from overwhelming the court.”