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Elena Kagan is Obama’s new Supreme Court choice

Steering a cautious path on a decision that may inform his legacy, President Barack Obama yesterday nominated his Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the United States Supreme Court. She would bring to three the number of women justices serving on the country's top legal bench, a historic breakthrough.

Ms Kagan, who at 50 also stands out because of her relative youth, would replace the liberal-leaning John Paul Stevens, who is retiring.

While most experts consider it unlikely that the Republicans will try to block her confirmation at Senate hearings, the choice will prompt some reservations not just from the conservative right but from Mr Obama's liberal-left base as well.

Indeed, the choosing by any President of a Supreme Court nominee never passes by without some high drama. A vacancy gives the White House an opportunity to alter for decades the ideological and intellectual profile of an arm of government that directly impacts the lives of the citizenry.

Mr Obama's new pick might be tailor-made for a president anxious to avoid too scalding a battle at a potentially hazardous moment; the November mid-term elections are around the corner. A former dean of the Harvard Law School, Ms Kagan has a record that puts her closer to the centre of the political spectrum than Justice Stevens.

With a long record of teaching as well as serving both the Obama and Clinton White Houses, Ms Kagan has also never been a judge before. This too may help to ensure a smoother confirmation process. Judges come with welters of writings out of which Republicans might have trawled potentially damaging intelligence.

The first woman dean of the Harvard Law School, Ms Kagan was called a “trail-blazing leader” by Mr Obama.

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Ms Kagan said: “Through most of my professional life I have had

the simple joy of teaching, of trying to communicate to students why I so love the law,” she said, “because law matters, because it keeps us safe, because it protects our most fundamental rights and freedoms and because it is the foundation of our democracy”.

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