WASHINGTON – The NAACP gave its backing Saturday to Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, expressing confidence in her after early hesitation that she might not be a forceful defender of civil rights.

The nation’s oldest and largest civil rights group voted unanimously at a board meeting in Florida to endorse Kagan. It was an early endorsement by a major interest group for Kagan.

The NAACP’s president, Benjamin Jealous, said that the group initially was concerned because Kagan, who never served as a judge, had little direct evidence or a record that she would actively promote civil rights. Many feared that she might have an overly expansive view of executive power.

Kagan, 50, has received some support from conservative groups because of her efforts to reach across ideological divides, including the recruiting of conservative professors while she was Harvard Law School dean.

Jealous said the group ultimately was swayed by Kagan’s work as a solicitor general as well as her tenure as White House aide during the Clinton administration, where she sought to strengthen hate crimes legislation. He said Kagan, who clerked for Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice, was effective in boosting enrollment of black and Hispanic students when she was at Harvard.