ELENA KAGAN CONFIRMED TO THE U.S. SUPREME COURT…. The Senate this afternoon confirmed Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination, and she will join the high court this fall as the institution’s 112th justice.

The Senate today confirmed Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court, making her the fourth woman ever to serve as a justice.

The vote, which was likely senators’ last order of business before a month-long recess, divided largely along party lines with 63 senators endorsing President Obama’s second court pick and 37 opposed.

Kagan’s ascension to the bench is expected to preserve the court’s ideological balance following liberal Justice John Paul Stevens’ retirement. It also marks the first time three female justices will sit on the high court at the same time.

One Democrat, Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, broke ranks and voted with the minority, while five Republicans — Collins, Graham, Gregg, Lugar, and Snowe — voted in support of confirmation.

The vote comes nearly one year to the day after the Senate voted 68 to 31 to confirm Sonia Sotomayor, and in that vote, 9 of the Senate’s 41 Republicans backed the president’s nominee.

By modern standards, Justice Kagan’s 63 confirmation votes isn’t exactly an overwhelming display of support. Of the Supreme Court’s nine current justices, 63 ranks fairly low — Stevens (98), Kennedy (97), Scalia (98), Ginsburg (96), Breyer (87), Roberts (78), Sotomayor (68) had more, while only Thomas (52) and Alito (58) had fewer.

As for the politics, I’m reminded of something Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said two years ago about the Senate and high court nominees: “When President Bill Clinton nominated Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsberg to serve on the high court, I voted for their confirmation, as did all but a few of my fellow Republicans. Why? For the simple reason that the nominees were qualified, and it would have been petty, and partisan, and disingenuous to insist otherwise. Those nominees represented the considered judgment of the president of the United States. And under our Constitution, it is the president’s call to make.”

In the last 12 months, McCain voted against Sotomayor and Kagan.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.