President's pick for the U.S. Supreme Court would be third woman on the highest court

AP Photo/Susan Walsh: Solicitor General and Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan looks to President Barack Obama as she speaks during and an announcement in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 10, 2010.AP Photo/Susan Walsh: Solicitor General and Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan looks to President Barack Obama as …If President Barack Obama's choice for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens' replacement on the U.S. Supreme Court gains the U.S. Senate's approval, Elena Kagan would be the third woman on the nine-member court. She would join Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, Obama's first Supreme Court pick, to make it the first time the court's composition is fully one-third female.

Like Sotomayor, Kagan hails from New York City. The Upper West Side, where she attended Hunter College Elementary and High Schools, moving onto Princeton and Oxford. And, like every other sitting Supreme Court justice, she hails from one of two Ivy League law schools, Harvard. (The other: Yale.)

Ivy League credentials aside--though some are not pleased about how important those elite sheepskins continue to be--Kagan seems to stand out as a good choice because of her finely developed skill of bringing disparate sides of a debate together to at least argue civilly, even if there is still stark disagreement. The president credited her for being a trailblazer (first woman president of Harvard Law School, for one) and a consensus builder.

"She believes, as I do, that exposure to a wide array of perspectives is the foundation not just for a sound legal education but a successful life in the law," the president said when announcing her nomination this morning.

Expect opposing voices to raise the fact that the current U.S. Solicitor General has never been a judge, and for Democrats, in turn, to note that she was nominated for an appeals court judgeship by former President Bill Clinton. (Her nomination was never voted on by the Senate.) Kagan has been criticized by liberals for reaching out to conservatives while president of Harvard Law School, saying they were underrepresented on campus. And she's gotten flack from conservatives for briefly barring military recruiters on Harvard's campus because the military's policy of banning openly gay men and lesbians serving in the military violated the school's anti-discrimination policy.

She would be the first Supreme Court justice to arrive on the highest bench without serving as a judge anywhere else in four decades. But she is far from a Washington outsider. She clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall, who also rose to the court directly from the Solicitor General's office, served as a Senate staff member and worked as a White House lawyer and domestic policy aide under President Clinton. When her judgeship nomination was ignored, she went to Harvard to teach and became the law's school's first woman president from 2003 to 2009.

From all accounts, she gets high marks for being very smart, very reasonable, fair-minded, and deeply knowledgeable about the law. We'll see how she is received on Capitol Hill in the next few weeks, but the very notion of finally making the presence of women on the highest court in the land substantial and far from a first is very gratifying.