Monday, August 3, 2015

Verdict on the judge

Verdict on the judge

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Some factoids about the Senate confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor, who was promoted to the U.S. Supreme Court this afternoon by a vote of 68 to 31:

1. When compared to all the confirmation votes since World War II, Sotomayor is the seventh most contentious nominee. The six who have received more than 31 No votes are Robert Bork (58), Clement Haynsworth (55), G. Harrold Carswell (51), Clarence Thomas (48), Samuel Alito (42), and William Rehnquist (33, when he was already on the bench but tapped for the chief justice job). And since those six were all nominated by Republican presidents, Sotomayor now ranks as the most contentious Democratic nominee of the postwar era.

2. How many Republicans had to support Sotomayor in order for us to view her confirmation as "bipartisan?" Nine of the 40 Republican senators - 22 percent of the minority - crossed over to vote Yes. Given the temper of the times, that seems like a sizeable group of defectors, but this can be spun the other way. Three Republicans with big Hispanic constituencies (John McCain, John Cornyn, Kay Bailey Hutchinson) nevertheless voted No. Two Republicans who in the past had always supported Democratic nominees (Charles Grassley, Orrin Hatch) this time voted No. And four of the nine Republican Yes votes were cast by lame-duckers (Mel Martinez, Judd Gregg, George Voinovich, Kit Bond) who don't have to worry about ticking off the right-wing base back home because they're not running for re-election anyway.

3. Two of those imminent Republican retirees, Voinovich and Bond, skewered President Obama quite effectively in their Senate floor speeches. They pointed out that Obama, as a senator, had opposed both Alito and John Roberts on ideological grounds - whereas they were voting to confirm Sotomayor on the basis of her professional qualifications, regardless of how they felt about her ideology. As Bond put it yesterday, "I could easily say, as Senator Obama said, that I disagree with a nominee's judicial approach. and that allows me to oppose the nominee of a different party. Luckily for President Obama, I do not agree with Senator Obama."

4. The National Rifle Association got its clock cleaned, a relatively rare event. The group, which opposed Sotomayor on Second Amendment grounds, decided to make this confirmation vote a litmus test of loyalty. But 12 senators with "A" ratings from the NRA - four Republicans and eight Democrats (including Pennsylvania's Casey-Specter tandem) - nevertheless voted to confirm.

5. The Sotomayor tally was a long way from 1994, when Democratic nominee Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed by a margin of 96 to 3. Today's 31 No votes might well prove to be the foundation for greater GOP opposition when the next Obama nominee comes along. If Obama's political fortunes decline further, if his party loses Senate seats in 2010, and if the next high court candidate is tapped to replace a conservative...well, to quote Bette Davis in All About Eve, "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night." 

Inquirer National Political Columnist
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Dick Polman Inquirer National Political Columnist
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