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Kagan oath is set for Saturday

The Senate vote was 63-37. For the first time, three female justices will serve at one time.

WASHINGTON - Solicitor General Elena Kagan will be sworn in Saturday as an associate justice of the Supreme Court after winning easy Senate confirmation Thursday.

The seating of President Obama's second nominee will mark the first time three women will serve simultaneously on the nine-member court. Kagan, 50, will join Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor for the fall term, which begins Oct. 4.

The 63-37 Senate vote was largely along party lines. Just one Democrat, Nebraska's Ben Nelson, voted no, while five Republicans - Maine's Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - backed Kagan.

In a ritual reserved for the most historic votes, senators sat at their desks and stood to cast their votes. Kagan watched on TV in the conference room at the Solicitor General's Office.

Obama invited Kagan to the White House on Friday for a reception to celebrate her confirmation.

Traveling Thursday in Chicago, he praised Kagan's ascension as "a sign of progress that I relish not just as a father who wants limitless possibilities for my two daughters, but as an American proud that our Supreme Court will be more inclusive, more representative, and more reflective of us as a people than ever before."

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will administer the constitutional oath to Kagan at 2 p.m. Saturday in a private ceremony at the court, with Kagan family members in attendance. He will administer the judicial oath in a second ceremony open to the media.

Kagan's formal investiture will take place Oct. 1 at a special sitting of the court.

During this week's Senate debate, Democrats lauded Kagan - a self-described progressive who will become the only sitting justice without prior experience as a judge - as a fresh, different voice. Republicans painted her as unqualified and harboring dangerous liberal tendencies.

Kagan's "experience outside the judicial monastery will be valuable to her when she is confirmed," Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D., Vt.) said. "No one can question the intelligence or achievements of this woman."

Brown votes no

But top Judiciary Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama said of the former Harvard Law School dean: "While she is truly intelligent, the exceptional qualities of her mind may be better suited to dealing with students and unruly faculty than with the daily hard work of deciding tough cases before the Supreme Court."

Kagan's lack of judicial experience was the stated reason why Sen. Scott Brown (R., Mass.) announced just hours before Thursday's vote that he would oppose her, despite the fact that he had participated in introducing her at her confirmation hearing.

Brown, who had been seen as a potential GOP supporter, called her "brilliant" but said she was missing the necessary background to be a justice.

The court has accepted 37 cases for its next term, about half the number it is ultimately likely to hear. Sometime next month, Kagan is expected to meet with other justices in private conferences to decide which other cases may be considered.

Political tinge

As solicitor general, Kagan has been the Obama administration's chief attorney arguing cases before the court, and will not participate in cases in which she was involved in appellate proceedings - notably, a challenge to mandatory minimum prison sentences imposed on armed drug dealers.

Kagan, who succeeds retired Justice John Paul Stevens, a leader of the court's liberal wing, is unlikely to shift the court's philosophical balance.

But she will go in with a political tinge, a trend that has become apparent in recent years. The unwritten rule of court confirmations used to be that if a nominee was qualified, politics were put aside. Of President Bill Clinton's two Supreme Court choices, Ginsburg was confirmed with only three opposing votes and Stephen G. Breyer with only nine.

Democrats mounted partisan challenges to President George W. Bush's nominees, and attempted a filibuster in 2006 against Samuel A. Alito Jr. The effort failed when it drew only 25 of the 60 votes needed - Obama, then a senator from Illinois, favored the extended debate - and Republicans have since mounted challenges to Obama's nominees.

Kagan's brother Irving, a New York City high school teacher, said Thursday that her confirmation "would have been an incredible dream for our parents . . . who wanted us to give back to the society, give back to the United States." Their parents are deceased.

And "it would have been impossible to think about for our grandparents," he said, "who were immigrants, who came over here as children, who didn't have high school educations."

Clapper OKd to Be Spy Chief

The Senate late Thursday confirmed retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper as director of national intelligence, voting to give him oversight of the nation's 16 spy agencies.

A nearly empty chamber approved the nomination by voice vote as senators sought to begin their monthlong recess.

Clapper, 69, who has been the Pentagon's chief intelligence official, will succeed retired Adm. Dennis Blair, who stepped down under pressure after clashing with other intelligence officials. He will be the fourth person to hold the post in the five years since it was created.

Missouri Sen. Kit Bond, top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, lifted a hold on Clapper's nomination after speaking Thursday with national security adviser James L. Jones, said a senior congressional staff aide.

Republicans wanted access to the threat assessments on each accused terrorist detainee at Guantanamo. Jones released much of the information Thursday to the committee.

Part of Clapper's job will be to better integrate the various spy agencies, a presidential priority that is complicated by interagency rivalries.

- Inquirer wire services