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Dan Balz's Take

Elections Have Consequences. So Do Confirmation Votes.

By Dan Balz
President Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court accomplished only part of his goal of changing the judicial confirmation process. He managed to lower the temperature of the debate without materially reducing partisan polarization.

Tuesday's 13 to 6 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee brought Sotomayor one step closer to a seat on the high court and continued what has been a confirmation process utterly lacking in drama or suspense. Yet only one Republican, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), broke party lines in the vote, joining with the 12 Democrats on the panel in voting for Sotomayor.

Two notable dissenters were Utah's Orrin Hatch and Iowa's Charles Grassley. Both have records of supporting Supreme Court nominees, offered up by Democratic and Republican presidents alike, dating back many years. Their votes foreshadow what is likely to be solid Republican opposition to the first Hispanic and third female nominated to the Supreme Court.

The confirmation process has lacked suspense for several reasons. With a 60 to 40 Democratic advantage in the Senate, Sotomayor's confirmation was assured from the start. There was less suspense also because her joining the court would likely have no significant impact on its ideological balance. In replacing Justice David Souter, she will fit comfortably into the court's liberal bloc, not move the court leftward.

The process also lacked drama or fireworks because Republicans were wary of launching attacks against a Latino woman. Most went out of their way to compliment her, to praise her personal story and her accomplishments, to talk about how much they liked her personally. Their disagreements were stated respectfully.

There is some political risk for the Republicans for their near-universal opposition to a Latino nominee, given the reverses the party has suffered in the past four years among this important and growing political constituency. But most Republicans have concluded that those risks are manageable.

GOP strategist Alex Castellanos said he thinks there will be no backlash among Hispanics over this vote. He said it is "insulting that Hispanics would believe a Hispanic nominee must be approved solely because of her ethnicity and not on the merits of her achievements, impartiality and judicial philosophy."

Castellanos linked Sotomayor's philosophy to what he called Obama's strongly leftward tilt as president. In that sense, the current debate over health care offers some insight into why the Sotomayor vote in the Judiciary Committee went almost strictly along party lines.

There is general agreement that the current health-care system needs to be changed. But a deep philosophical gulf between Democrats and Republicans has prevented the two sides from finding common ground a solution. There is a similarly deep philosophical divide over the role of the judiciary, which shaped the debate over Sotomayor's nomination and has influenced the voting on both sides.

However, judicial nominations once were thought to be different -- more immune from partisan rancor -- than other issues, though they have been partisan minefields since the nominations of conservatives Robert Bork in 1987 and Clarence Thomas in 1991.

Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia was confirmed in 1986 without a dissenting vote -- 98 to 0. Even after the Bork and Thomas battles, Republicans were willing to vote for two of President Bill Clinton's nominees -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer -- in overwhelming numbers.

Four years ago, 22 Democrats supported John Roberts's nomination to become chief justice, against 22 Democrats who opposed him. On the basis of the Hatch and Grassley votes, it is not likely that half the Republicans in the Senate will be voting for Sotomayor.

Obama was one of those 22 Democrats who opposed Roberts. He spoke about Roberts in glowing terms: as well qualified in temperament, experience and legal acumen to sit on the high court. It was Roberts's judicial philosophy that troubled him. Though he had once told a friend that, if Democrats wanted to change the courts they had to win elections, he did not give deference to President George W. Bush.

In the past, many senators have deferred to a president in his Supreme Court nominations, just as they do on Cabinet selections. That was the rationale Lindsey Graham offered in explaining his support for a judge whose record he sharply criticized during the hearings. "Elections have consequences," he said.

On the opening day of Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, Graham made note of Obama's vote against Roberts: "I can assure you that if I applied Senator Obama's standard to your nomination, I wouldn't vote for you, because the standard that he articulated would make it impossible for anybody with my view of the law and society to vote for someone with your activism and background when it comes to lawyering and judging."

Obama's vote against Roberts was an acknowledgment of the power of the liberal and conservative bases as senators weigh Supreme Court nominees. Obama was persuaded that whatever national ambitions he had would be damaged by a vote for Roberts. He knew that liberal activists would not likely forget a vote for a conservative chief justice, no matter how well qualified.

Sotomayor likely would not have won significant Republican support even if Obama had voted for Roberts or for Bush's other nominee, Justice Samuel Alito. Though Graham was justified in pointing out Obama's action, the partisan climate transcends any one politician. The president will get the justice he wants and will make history in doing so. But the confirmation process remains a central front in the ideological wars between the parties.

Posted at 3:29 PM ET on Jul 28, 2009  | Category:  Dan Balz's Take
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President Obama alienated the largest component of the Hispanic population when he did not nominate a Mexican-American for the Supreme Court

Posted by: harry9 | July 29, 2009 12:52 PM

Accusations: Obama is a racist, hates white people. No one could ever convince me that the President hates his mom/or grandmother or anyone on her side of the family, or whites in general. He grew up with them.

That said, cannot tell how Hispanics will react after all this. Can only say as a woman, when I think: hard work, diligence, well educated, qualified and disciplined, Sonia Sotomayor, comes to mind.

She represents a great 'American story.' She makes most women proud. A great role model. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m32iJgIpyL8

Posted by: Victoria5 | July 29, 2009 11:10 AM

Those republicans voting against nomination will create the impression that they are anti Hispanic. It is unavoidable.
Judge Roberts was whisked through the nomination process like he was royalty.
Soon it will no longer be as pleasant for him as it once was on the supreme court.

Posted by: seemstome | July 29, 2009 6:24 AM

Republicans are opposing Sotomayor NOT because she is a Hispanic but because she is a liberal. If you think otherwise, you're an idiot.


Posted by: Barno1 | July 28, 2009 10:24 PM

don't understand. If there was a rep. president that nominated a conservative judge, do you think that the lib. dems. would have voted in the positive? I don't think so. So you are trashing the rep. because they do not have the same ideas that the libs do. If you don't think that way, you are as dumb and small as you appear.

Posted by: ddy19spider57 | July 28, 2009 10:17 PM

rush and sean frequently use that "cheese with your whine?" nonsense because it caters to the morons who regularly listen to and actually believe the obvious blad face lies they spout daily. See - it makes fun of liberals as being SISSIES! and even has a double entendre (that's a FRENCH phrase for something that had a double meaning, little brained limbugh listeners) with whine because all liberals of course drink wine instead of beer or whiskey like good conservatives and real men. What utter fifth grade nonsense. But that is EXACTLY why it appeals to and is repeated by conservatives. They think politics is a fifth grade game of baseball at recess instead of being something serious that affects every person living not only in our own country but because America is (or at least was before republicons trashed it so badly) the leader of the entire world.

Posted by: John1263 | July 28, 2009 9:57 PM

republicons voting no on soon to be Supreme Court justice Sotomayor should surprise no one. After years of whining like little sissies because Democrats blocked less that 1/2% of the bush appointee crazies republicons have thus far held up the confirmation votes of EVERY President Obama nominee not only to the courts but also to the DoJ attorneys. "Up or down vote" republicthugs would whine and wet themsleves over knowing that they had 51, just enough, to get lunatices into lifetime positions on the court cursing our nation and our laws and our Constitution for the next generation and beyond. Sotomayor will be confirmed because republicons cannot deny her a vote, and they can vote no to pacify the lunatic fringe who still support their sorry excuse for a poltical party while suffering little since Justice Sotomayor will easily be confirmed anyway. they are without question the most dispicable batch of fringe crazy legislators we have seen since the Southerners took voluntary leave of the congress in 1860 to aid in the collective act of treason the South perpetrated in the following years.

Posted by: John1263 | July 28, 2009 9:50 PM

Furthermore, the claim that if Republicans vote against Sotomayor that this will somehow result in lost votes from Hispanics in future elections is incredibly insulting to Hispanics, most of whom do not vote on racial lines.

Not to mention, Republicans pushed very hard for the confirmation of Hispanic Miguel Estrada to the federal bench a couple years ago and the Democrats were so terrified of a Hispanic conservative one day ending up on the Supreme Court they would not even allow his nomination to come to a vote.

Posted by: Barno1 | July 28, 2009 9:14 PM

The despicable commenters on this blog accusing the Republicans who vote against Sotomayor of being "racists" and "bigots" should read HISPANIC Linda Chavez urging the Senate not to confirm Sotomayor because of her record:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/16/AR2009071603124.html

Posted by: Barno1 | July 28, 2009 9:13 PM

Isn't it fascinating to watch "the Party of No" (the Republicans with no ideas that haven't already been proven disastrous) cater to its racist redneck base, and alienate the Hispanic vote?

These are the people who used to burn witches. They will always be dragged kicking and screaming into progress as they howl in fear.

Posted by: losthorizon10 | July 28, 2009 9:05 PM

cshotta, clarence thomas can't hold a candle to Sotomayor or just about any other judge. The man had no experience except for a couple of months on a bench. He is an intgellectual midget. 18 years on the court and has not asked one single question of anyone bringing cases before the SC. I've heard of being a "listener," but that is ridiculous. Of course the only question he asks is how scalia is going to vote.

Posted by: mikel7 | July 28, 2009 8:51 PM

The republican bigots on the Senate Judiciary Committee never had any intention of voting for Sonia Sotomayor anyway. Sotomayor was not a white guy, and the southern race bigots of the Senate Judiciary Committee were not going to vote for anyone who threatened the white guy quota on the US Supreme Court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee bigots knew that they were never going to vote for Sotomayor, but they decided to have a little good old boy fun with her anyway.

Yee Haw.

Posted by: DCSage | July 28, 2009 8:17 PM

Obama and Gates RACISTS?

TEACHABLE MOMENT: Leading Psychiatrist Concludes Obama and Professor Gates are racists with a deep seated hatred towards white people!

Watch the full video at: http://wallstreetmarketnews.blogspot.com

Posted by: tombass09 | July 28, 2009 8:11 PM

I just love it watching the repubs vote against common sense and cater to the lowest of the retardican base by lining up solidly against Sotomayor. These guys, technically, can be described with a word that begins with a "P" and ends with "ussy's"... none of 'em can step up and be their own man (or woman).

By catering to the dumbest part of their constituency, they are diluting (even more), their Retardican gene pool. Next thing you know, a family reunion will be a place to pick up a hot date and church will be in a tent on a revival out in a pasture where they handle snakes!

What ever happened to common sense and the responsibility of governing?

Posted by: 4Jaxon | July 28, 2009 7:53 PM

Who does Alex Castellanos thinks he is speaking for. Not for Hispanics thats for sure. Hispanics will not forget. The names of every Republican that voted no will not be forgotten. Nor will those who vote no next week. The Republicans showed today and I am sure, next week, that they really don't care about Hispanics and any minority for that matter. They showed their true colors. And come 2010 and 2012 Hispanics will not forget. The word will be pass on and on....believe me.

Posted by: fajardo00738 | July 28, 2009 7:42 PM

The Republicans are taking a stand against illegal immigration. The Democrats who never saw a vote that they would not try to buy with other people's money, are welcoming and condoning illegal immigration into this country.

Posted by: hz9604 | July 28, 2009 7:40 PM

"But most Republicans have concluded that those risks are manageable."

Yes, and the Republicans have been so effective in wooing the Latino vote. They know what they're doing.

Beyond that, this was a pretty dumb vote. By voting against a rather moderate judicial choice, they have signaled they will vote against anyone. So the president can go as far left as he desires next time and accuse them of crying wolf if they complain.

Posted by: mypitts2 | July 28, 2009 6:49 PM

The hat trick of confirmations with one vote:
1) Sotomayor confirmed to advance to the full vote

2) Republicans confirmed as a bunch of scared white guys who can't tolerate anyone of color in a position of authority.

3) GOP talking head Castellanos confirmed fabricator with a public statement completely belied by the facts presented to America by the GOP since Sotomayor was tapped.

Face it pubbies, you're dead and done and have nobody to blame but yourselves for being marginalized. You've acted like a bunch of petulant three year olds for so long you've forgotten how to act like reasonable, responsible adults. You equate 'compromise' with failure, apply your binary white-or-non-white world view to everything, have repeatedly demonstrated no shame in bearing false witness, and want to pin the blame on anything and everything but yourself because you do not have the mental capacity left to accept personal responsibility.

You're being played by the Limbaughs and Hannitys and are too stupid to even realize it.

Posted by: washpost18 | July 28, 2009 6:44 PM

cschotta1 wrote:
Some cheese for your WHINE lib? It's unfortunate that the voters of this country "forget" what happens when you put a bunch of loony-toon radicals in charge of this country.
_______________________________________

How many years have we heard Medicare is going broke?

Their solution - is about the same solutions our country has had for 8 years!

See where that got us?

The Party of NO- DO NOTHINGS-but destroy- want to know where are the jobs?

Funny- we want to know the same thing- from 8+years of the BUSH TAX CUTS?

Where are those JOBS from the BUSH tax cuts-?

Unfortunately- we ABSOLUTELY know- FOR A FACT= we have 5000+ job loss from the BUSH YEARS and TAX CUTS- Our BRAVE SOLDIERS!

5000+ LIVES lost from our beloved MILITARY.

We also know of 96,000 JOBS lost at CITI- Bush TAX CUTS created- Financail Service JOBS- GONE- BUSH TAX CUT JOBS!

WHERE ARE THE JOBS FROM THE BUSH TAX CUTS?

Bush’s Homeownership Proclamation of 2003-
In 2003 what were these 'NEW TOOLS AND RESOURCES' implemented ADMINISTRATION-WIDE?

National Homeownership Month, 2003
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 13, 2003

By the National Homeownership Month, 2003
Homeownership is more than just a symbol of the American Dream; …

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is leading an Administration-wide effort to bring new tools and resources to would-be homeowners. (Cont.)

How many foreclosures?

WHERE ARE THE JOBS FROM THE BUSH TAX CUTS?

Hank Poulsen proclaimed at a Global Forum in 2005- the only export America had was financial services.

GLOBAL Financial MELTDOWN- 2008!

WHERE ARE THE BUSH TAX CUT JOBS?

Say that 30 x's!

WHERE ARE THE BUSH TAX CUT JOBS?

Posted by: sasha2008 | July 28, 2009 6:19 PM

Confirmation votes do have consequences and Alex Castellanos conveniently fails to mention what drives conservative votes. It's the tried and true method: money spent on propaganda broadcast by the mainstream media. Rush Limbaugh enjoys a $400 million/5 year contract because he beautifully mirrors and influences a large segment of the country. That he's nuts and has never met a fact he can't bend is beside the point.

The GOP has the dough. My only question is will it work to their advantage in 2010 and beyond? Obama's presidential campaign pretty much blew away their previous assumptions. Of course, Bush W. helped too.

Posted by: Kelly14 | July 28, 2009 6:17 PM

What gets me-

Deacon Coburn!

Really!!

You have this 'splaining to do' right wing anti democratic institutional philosphy critiquing his judge.

Only in AMerica!

Boy- do we have some splaining to do!

Early June ‘09- Sen. Colburn was asked on C-span to define ‘Socialism’ - People should look that up, C-span.org.

We really need to expose the funding of that housing unit on C Street.

We also need to know if it is law and if so how, an OB/GYN Doctor/Deacon/Oklahoma Senator Coburn- is immune from answering questions from any law in this country regarding his advice to bribe Senator Ensign's mistress and her family -

Please explain that?

Deacon Coburn of OK - advising Ensign of NV how to bribe his mistress and her family!

"Mr. Hampton (husband of mistress) added that Coburn confronted Ensign and urged him to provide millions of dollars in assistance to the Hamptons to pay off their mortgage..."

Where would those millions come from Deacon Coburn?

Are bribes legal through one of bush's signing statements?

Is extortion legal through one of bush's signing statements?

Will Deacon Coburn tell us how many guns are allowed at the C- Street residence in DC; now that the SCOTUS has overruled the DC city council?

Deacon Coburn- you got some splaining to do !

Posted by: sasha2008 | July 28, 2009 6:03 PM

Well, cschotta1, whatever you think about Judge Sotomayor's looks, the fact is that your ugliness is bone deep. As for brains, I don't think she's going to have to worry about being seated next to you on the SCOTUS anytime soon.

Posted by: benjaminanderson | July 28, 2009 5:42 PM

It shows how steeped in partisan rancor the Republican Party has become.

http://www.political-buzz.com/

Posted by: parkerfl1 | July 28, 2009 5:39 PM

Furthermore, the phrase "Some cheese for your WHINE lib?" must be some type of Limbaughism since I see a lot of republican posters saying it.

Why is it that those on the right-side of the aisle always repeat the same phrases in lock-step like a bunch of robots?

Posted by: lasker1895 | July 28, 2009 5:27 PM

cschotta1 wrote:
Some cheese for your WHINE lib? It's unfortunate that the voters of this country "forget" what happens when you put a bunch of loony-toon radicals in charge of this country.
__________________________________________

Huh? We just had 8 years of GWB and his cabal of loony-toons hence why the GOP got crushed in an electoral landslide in 2006.

Posted by: lasker1895 | July 28, 2009 5:24 PM


I was hoping to see a Roberts-like vote, because I think Sotomayor is qualified but liberal. I was afraid that it would be Alito-like, despite the fact that Sotomayor is not so partisan as he. In the end we will get something in-between. At least 65 votes, perhaps 70.

If the NRA is making this a test-vote, so be it. Each GOP senator can decide whether there are more potential hispanic votes in his state than 2nd Amendment votes. Or they can vote their conscience.

The confirmation is a done deal. The votes have more to do with 2010, 2012, and 2014 than with the actual judicial temperament of Sotomayor.

Posted by: mikeinmidland | July 28, 2009 5:06 PM

As Senator Lindsey Graham observed today, at long last we are on the cusp of having our first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice (as well as our third woman upon the high court).

One need not deem racist or misogynist those who vote against Sonia Sotomayor next week. But wouldn't it be nice if some votes of national celebration surprosed us from white men in the Senate?

Posted by: FirstMouse1 | July 28, 2009 5:04 PM

I've never seen so much cyber-ink dedicated to a minority party on the verge of irrelevance. Perhaps watching that iceberg called a changing American electorate sinking the decadent GOP Titanic is too much to ignore.

And guess what, cschotta1, that "ugly Latina" is going to be interpreting the laws you live by. Choke on that, or find another rock to crawl under.

Posted by: SWB2 | July 28, 2009 4:29 PM

Some cheese for your WHINE lib? It's unfortunate that the voters of this country "forget" what happens when you put a bunch of loony-toon radicals in charge of this country. The so-called "minority" party will do fine with a true conservative, while the racist democRAT party will have to defend the actions of the Messiah, Pelosi and Reid. The only good of having Obama as POTUS, is that it will finally put an end to affirmative action, as the world lives and suffers with the affirmative action failed community organizer as POTUS!

Posted by: cschotta1 | July 28, 2009 4:39 PM

I've never seen so much cyber-ink dedicated to a minority party on the verge of irrelevance. Perhaps watching that iceberg called a changing American electorate sinking the decadent GOP Titanic is too much to ignore.

And guess what, cschotta1, that "ugly Latina" is going to be interpreting the laws you live by. Choke on that, or find another rock to crawl under.

Posted by: SWB2 | July 28, 2009 4:29 PM

They will continue to vote against all who aren't white males.

Posted by: lswonder | July 28, 2009 4:05 PM

I see the kooks are out today. Perhaps you dorks could google "Clarence Thomas" to see what the so-called party of the "people" tried to do to him. It's the democRATS who can't afford to see people of color become republicans, or "Uncle Tom's".

"Mamma don't let your babies grow-up to be liberals, coz they're always stoned and will never leave home, while spending your hard earned cash"!

Posted by: cschotta1 | July 28, 2009 4:13 PM

So What? "If Republicans cannot stand the heat get out the damn kitchen". Everyone is tired of their foolishness.

Go Sotomayor-from Scar!. Bunk um!

Posted by: Scar1 | July 28, 2009 4:08 PM

She's one ugly "wise Latina"!

Posted by: cschotta1 | July 28, 2009 4:06 PM

The Republicans on the panel asked themselves this question, "Is her judicial philosophy the same as a white male?". They decided she couldn't make the cut. Buried deep in their subconscious was the specter of someone whom they had not treated well and the fear that there would be revenge. There was nothing in her 17 years on the bench to fault. They will continue to vote against all who aren't white males. And they will continue to be the minority party.

Posted by: lswonder | July 28, 2009 4:05 PM

Graham has just returned from the national view point when traveling with McRunt. These other guys are captive of their constituencies which in this case, amounts to a protest vote, which is all the Birthers can hope for.

Posted by: angriestdogintheworld | July 28, 2009 3:58 PM

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