Do NOT discount the necessity of the Man of Steel to the JLA. Although he hasn’t always been a member, he should have been. He’s the first super-hero, the one who inspired all other comers in one form or another in the real world. In the DCU he’s a powerhouse of varying (although always massive) power levels, able to deal damage close as well as at a distance. He’s got good leadership skills and everyone naturally looks to him as an example; he’s the foundation of the Justice League. Seasoned veteran or total noob, nobody wants to disappoint Superman.
Now is my chance to display the contrarian nature which has plagued my comic collecting existence and made me cringe in terror every time an outsider has asked the "So, what comics do you read?" question. Basically, if a character is widely recognized and beloved by the general public, I don't care for them. And such is the case with Supes here; I can't quibble with any of Tate's reasoning above, and yet, while Big Blue might be a paragon of virtue and the like, I much prefer my League to be Superman-free. So who's my first pick?
Hawkman (pre-Crisis Katar Hal)
Yes, that's right, my first pick is the "screwed-up character history" posterboy. I blame it on my growing up with the Satellite Era of the JLA; 4 of my picks are a direct result of my love for that era. So, beyond the Satellite love, why pick Katar? Because as an intergalactic policeman he brings a lot of knowledge to the game; as a warrior, he brings a lot of determination; as a long standing member he brings a lot of experience; and, probably the biggest reason of all, he just frickin' looks cool. I don't know why a man wearing a bird mask and wings is such a striking figure, but he is, especially when drawn by Kubert; in fact, in my dream scenario, there's a special codicil that all pictures of Katar must be drawn by Kubert, no matter who else is doing the artwork on the book. Want Jim Lee to draw every other character? Fine by me, but Katar is all Kubert, all the time.
A Superman free League is a bold move and a bold statement and really sets the tone for your lineup...especially when you switch him out for Hawkman! I like this move, I must admit, it’s ballsy. While Katar definitely doesn't bring the power level of Superman, he certainly brings the experience, the know-how and the leadership abilities. And I agree that, for some indefinable reason, he looks wicked cool and cuts an impressive silhouette. I can't agree with the pick, but I can certainly agree with your reasons for it.