Partisan Confirmation

August 6th, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by the Senate today.  The vote was 68 to 31.  Senator Ted Kennedy was not present to vote because he suffers from brain cancer and was too ill to attend.

All 31 votes against her confirmation came from Republicans.  Of 40 Republican senators, only nine could bring themselves to rise above partisanship and show some solidarity with the majority. 

What motivated the 31 Republican senators who voted against confirmation?  Given that her confirmation was a fait accompli, what did they accomplish beyond showing once again that blatant partisanship pervades every aspect of politics in Washington?  This was an opportunity for the minority to show the majority — and the President — that they can act in a bipartisan way.  And this was a freebie — there was nothing to lose.

When Chief Justice Roberts was confirmed 78-22 and Associate Justice Alito was confirmed 58-42, the Republicans publicly gnashed their teeth and complained about the partisan Democrats.  Their point was that both nominees were well-qualified, the president and the senate majority reflected the will of the people and the minority should defer, and the Senate should be capable of acting with some sense of bipartisanship.  Are their memories so short?

It might be said that some Senate Republicans feared a backlash from their constituents if they voted to confirm Sotomayor.  I don’t think so.  Their votes could have been explained just as I’ve explained above, and I think the majority of their constituents would have understood.  They might even have praised their senators for behaving in a bipartisan way, while Democrats who promised so much in that regard have delivered so little.

Sources: 

Senate Confirms Sotomayor for Supreme Court, The Washington Post
Supreme Court of the United States, Wikipedia (shows past confirmation votes)


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5 Responses to “Partisan Confirmation”



  1. Clarissa |

    I feel that bipartisanship is an unlikely thing in the present political climate, so hoping for it is mostly a waste of time and energy.

    I am very happy about Justice Sotomayor’s confirmation, though.


  2. Brian |

    Perhaps at least some of those senators did not believe her to be qualified and upheld their oaths of office.

    I would not, under any circumstances, have voted her into office. She is not qualified. End of story.


  3. Harvey |

    Tom,

    I completely agree with Brian, she is not qualified, neither by her record as a judge or by her activist tendencies.

    As for bipartisanship, the Conservatives gain nothing with their empty gesture to the liberals who, history has shown, won’t appreciate it or reciprocate.

    Your statement: “And this was a freebie — there was nothing to lose.” completely blows me away. Adding another person to the Supreme court FOR LIFE who has displayed such a strong tendency to make decisions based on her predjudices and her ego is losing quite a lot.


  4. Tom |

    I think there are two standards of qualification for Supreme Court justices. The first is political. By being nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, Sotomayor is politically and constitutionally qualified.

    More important, though, is what we could call objective qualification — the judgment of a reasonable person. Sotomayor is certainly qualified by that standard, also. She’s a summa cum laude graduate of Princeton, she has a J.D. from Yale Law School and was an editor of the Yale Law Review, and she was an Assistant DA in New York City for five years. Then she was in private practice. From 1992 to 1998 she was a federal district judge (nominated by the first President Bush), and from 1998 to 2009 she was a federal appeals judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. She has a pretty solid record as a judge, and she’s shown a tendency to be tough on crime. By what objective standard would a reasonable person consider her not qualified?

    The fact that you may disagree with her political philosophy or dislike a few things she said in the past (all of which have been reasonably explained) certainly doesn’t make her unqualified. She’s actually better qualified in substantive terms than most people who are elevated to the Supreme Court. From what I know so far, I actually expect her to be as much a centrist on the Court as a liberal. Time will tell.

    The Senators who voted against her missed a chance to show some bipartisanship at no cost because she was going to be confirmed no matter how they voted. That’s a fact. Supreme Court nominations and confirmations are a special function in our system, and we’ve had a general tradition, aside from the past few years, of the minority joining in support of confirmation of the nominee when it was clear that he/she would be confirmed. That shows the nation that there is confidence in and support for judges, whatever our individual political preferences may be. How can that be a bad thing?

    People who don’t like the federal judicial nominees that President Obama and the Democratic-majority Senate put on the bench have only one option — work like hell to elect a president and Senate majority more to their liking. If that isn’t possible, they might as well reconcile themselves to living within a democratic system. After all, depite its flaws, its better than all the other alternatives.


  5. Brian |

    I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

    If she believes that, she’s delusional. If she doesn’t, she’s a liar. In either case, she is not to be trusted to fulfill her oath.

    Unqualified. Nothing else is relevant. And as I understand it, she didn’t just utter this at UC Berkley – she is supposed to have said it 4 or 5 times in public.


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