A group of prominent conservatives have sent a letter to Republican senators urging them to filibuster President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court:
Our national experience in the past decade has changed the standard by which Republicans should cast their confirmation vote for a Supreme Court nominee of a Democrat president. The benefit of a doubt that once arguably might have justified the indifference over the last two nominees of a Democratic president is no longer tenable.
Huh. Actually, this obstructionist approach might not be a bad political strategy… if Republicans are resigned to remaining a minority party for the foreseeable future. But if they ever plan to win back both the trust of the American people, and/or the White House, well, not so much.
Because, you know, what goes around comes around, and all that.
It wasn’t so long ago, during the Alito nomination, that Republicans reviled Democratic talk of a filibuster as unAmerican and unconstitutional. This was during the heady days following the Democrats’ disastrous showing in the 2004 elections, a time when Karl Rove was boasting about a permanent Republican majority, and Senate leaders threatened the “nuclear option”—eliminating the filibuster altogether—should minority Democrats put up too strong a fight. They didn’t.
But if a mere 40 Republicans follow this letter’s advice, and do vote as a block to hold up the Sotomayor confirmation over issues of judicial philosophy, then the standard by which senators cast confirmation votes really will have changed. And it will be a standard by which Democrats will measure their own actions the next time a Republican president nominates a justice.
The letter argues that “Americans have been awakened to their own stewardship of the federal courts,” pointing to 2008 exit polls that showed three quarters of voters considered Supreme Court nominations a significant factor in their vote, and 7% the determining issue. But it might behoove the authors to remember that this was an election Obama won by a comfortable margin, capturing electoral votes in every region of the country, and one in which Democrats made substantial gains in the Senate, thus making the “stewardship” argument profoundly self-defeating to the conservative cause.
With Republican presidents having appointed seven of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices, and one Republican-appointed Chief Justice after another having run the court for more than half a century, I understand if Republicans feel they have some sort of unique claim on the institution. But they don’t. Obama has just as much of a right to leave his imprint on the court as the presidents who preceded him.
So it would seem an odd political calculation to choose now, when the balance of power on the court isn’t even at stake, to seek a confrontation that could redefine the confirmation process for decades to come. And I’m guessing that cooler heads in the Republican caucus won’t.