Supreme Court nomination confirmations in the U.S. Senate used to be fairly smooth. Oh yes…there were the occasional Robert Borks (skewed judicial philosophy, defeated), Clarence Thomases (alleged sexual harassment, confirmed, 52-48), Douglas Ginsburgs (admitted marijuana use, withdrawn), or Harriet Mierses (bahahahahha, withdrawn) out there, but, for the most part, the United States Senate has deferred to the President's judgement on nominations unless some extenuating circumstance has come up.
As South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham so deftly put it when he was explaining his vote for Sonia Sotomayor,
"I do believe elections have consequences, and it's not like we hid from the American people during the campaign that the Supreme Court selections were at stake," said Graham, who was a strong supporter of 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
"When you look at the history of this country," Graham said, "great deference has been given to that selection by the United States Senate. While I'm not bound to vote for Judge Sotomayor, it would be the path of least political resistance for me.
"I choose to vote for Judge Sotomayor because I believe she is well qualified."
(Read the rest of this McClatchy article here.) http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2009/07/22/72281/gops-lindsey-graham-says-hell.html
After a contentious political show, Sotomayor was confirmed, 68-31, in a 59-40 Democratic Senate.
Need more proof? Ronald Reagan's nomination of ultra-conservative Antonin Scalia was approved unanimously, 98-0, in a 53-47 Republican Senate. Well, as the immortal Eric Carmen said in his song All By Myself, "Those days are gone."
President Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993, and she was confirmed easily, 96-3. One of the Senators voting for her confirmation was Indiana Republican Dan Coats.
Fast forward 17 years...
We now live in 2010, and, in this hyper-charged political year that happens to co-incide with a midterm election, Justice John Paul Stevens is retiring. Now, the battle lines are being drawn. Even before Stevens officially announced his retirement, the GOP was already threatening filibuster. On the campaign trail, it's getting nasty, and it's happening right here in the state.
As widely reported, the firing squad is turning inward as Republicans John Hostettler, Richard Behney, Don Bates, and Marlin Stutzman all being to take potshots at R frontjogger...Dan Coats, yes that Dan Coats, in the battle for Evan Bayh's U.S. Senate seat for his 1993 vote to confirm Ginsburg.
Let's think about that for a second...these four candidates are actually holding up Coats' vote to confirm Justice Ginsburg in 1993 as an election issue in 2010. Is it fair? Maybe not, but it is politics, and it's mirroring what's about to happen as President Obama selects a new nominee to replace Justice Stevens.
Things are cyclical, and we may someday get back to a more collegial Senate. Unfortunately, I just don't see it today, and given that this has become such a hot button issue where the Republican challengers are bringing up a former Senator's vote in a confirmation that was approved 96-3 really underscores how nasty things are and how much they have changed over the years.
Dan Coats, while wrong on almost everything, at least knows how the Senate works, and he now has every opportunity to educate. He should take the young whipper snappers aside and explain to them exactly why the Senate is called the "upper house." If he does this, he might pick up a couple of independent votes. Unfortunately, it seems like Coats is going into the mud, too. He now is speaking all the 2010 GOP/Tea Party talking points. Clearly, the Coats that voted for Ginsburg in 1993 probably wouldn't vote for her in 2010.
Coats is also giving the wrong answer on the issue. He's trying to explain the issue in some political terms that by approving Ginsburg that it would hurt Clinton in 1996 or something else that doesn't make much sense. Well, how'd that work for you? Clinton got re-elected. Coats was gone by 1999 from the Senate, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg continues to serve on the court. It's a silly explanation to something that's easily explainable.
By not explaining that the Senate sometimes works in a way that Antonin Scalia can get confirmed 98-0, Coats is now saying that his vote for Ginsburg was political. He's put himself in a lose-lose position when this could really be a win-win for him, and he's opened himself up to criticism on this issue...somehow...when, once again, the nomination went through 96-3.
I guess that's what 2010 will do to you.