WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Elena Kagan Thursday as the Supreme Court's 112th justice and the fourth woman in its history, granting a lifetime term to a lawyer and academic with a reputation for brilliance, a dry sense of humor and a liberal bent.
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. 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 watched on TV in the conference room at the solicitor general's office, with her Justice Department colleagues looking on. She's to be sworn in Saturday afternoon at the court by Chief Justice John Roberts.
Obama, traveling in Chicago, said Kagan will make an outstanding justice who understands that her rulings affect people, and called the addition of another woman to the court a sign of progress for the country. He invited Kagan to the White House Friday for a ceremony marking her confirmation.
The vote, Obama said, was "an affirmation of her character and her temperament; her open-mindedness and evenhandedness; her determination to hear all sides of every story and consider all possible arguments."
Kagan isn't expected to alter the ideological balance of the court, where Stevens was considered a leader of the liberal wing. But the two parties clashed over her nomination and the court itself. Republicans argued that Kagan was a politically motivated activist who would be unable to put aside her opinions and rule impartially. Democrats defended her as a highly qualified trailblazer for women who could bring a note of moderation and real-world experience to a polarized court they said was dominated by just the kind of activists the GOP denounced.
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