Political Animal


March 19, 2012 12:40 PM This Day In RINO Betrayal!

By Ed Kilgore

If you ever wonder about the origins and depths of the movement-conservative fear of “betrayal” of the Cause by Establishment Republicans, consider this post by Ed Whelan at National Review today, entitled “This Day in Judicial Activism:”

1957—President Eisenhower’s nomination of William J. Brennan, Jr. to serve on the Supreme Court is confirmed by the Senate. Brennan, a former New Jersey supreme court justice, is already serving on the Court by virtue of Eisenhower’s October 1956 recess appointment of him. Eisenhower’s selection of Brennan—which Eisenhower later identifies as one of his two biggest mistakes as president (see This Day item for March 1, 1954)—is said to have resulted from a recommendation by his campaign advisers that an appointment of a Catholic Democrat from the Northeast would attract critical voters. So much for basing Supreme Court selections on short-term political calculations. In retrospect, that recommendation appears to have been as unnecessary as it was foolish: Eisenhower wins re-election over Adlai Stevenson by a huge margin, 57%-42% in the popular vote and 457 to 73 in the electoral college.
In his 34 years on the Court, Brennan deploys his impressive backroom political skills in the service of liberal judicial activism. It is doubtful that anyone has done more to misshape the Supreme Court’s understanding of the Constitution.

As you might have guessed, Whelan’s 1954 reference is to Ike’s earlier appointment of the Great Satan himself, Chief Justice Earl Warren.

These disasters (from a conservative point of view) were hardly isolated. Richard Nixon appointed Roe v. Wade author Harry Blackmun; Gerald Ford’s brief presidency produced long-time Supreme Court liberal John Paul Stevens, and Poppy Bush put the ultimate Stealth Liberal, David Souder, on the High Court, an act for which the later nomination of Clarence Thomas was a very loud apology. Worse yet, St. Ronald Reagan was responsible for Sandra Day O’Conner, and depending on where Anthony Kennedy lands on a series of big upcoming cases, his appointment, too, could wind up earning a conservative Day of Infamy.

You’d have to say everything about Mitt Romney makes him suspect as the kind of Republican president who might make an insufficiently right-wing Court appointment. And this is precisely why I’d bet the farm (if I had one) that by the time November rolls around the Federalist Society wing of the conservative movement will have extracted so many private and public blood oaths from Romney on the subject that should he even think about a less-than-orthodox nominee, Satan would appear in the West Wing and snatch Mitt right down to hell.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • bob atkinson on March 19, 2012 12:47 PM:

    Sandra Day O'Conner's decision to retire only if a Republican President were elected to choose her replacement and her decisive 5th vote that appointed Bush the Younger to the Presidency is her foremost legacy. Paint her as a moderate if you wish but Bush v. Gore showed her fealty to party overwhelmed any sense of judicial restraint.

  • Anonymous on March 19, 2012 12:57 PM:

    David Souder

    It's actually spelled "Souter".

  • beejeez on March 19, 2012 1:11 PM:

    ... and it's actually spelled "O'Connor." But bloggers don't need editors.

  • John Dillinger on March 19, 2012 1:30 PM:

    I can't imagine a Republican President would be permitted by his party to look outside the pipeline of rightwing activists that now populate the federal judiciary due to the eight years of the Bush Jr. Presidency. See Miers, Harriet.

  • martin on March 19, 2012 1:38 PM:

    I like the tacit admission that Supreme Court Justices should be chosen for political purposes. Not "the most qualified" or based on their interpretation of a case or the Constitution. Eisenhower's mistake, apparently, was thinking short term rather than long.

  • schtick on March 19, 2012 1:48 PM:

    Some place in my reading over the weekend, I came upon a piece about what person thought the republican party has become. The article keeps coming to mind and the more I think of it, the more I'm beginning to agree with it.
    The person writing the piece was comparing the party with a cult by saying, in so many words, that you MUST believe what they believe, you MUST believe in their religious views, you MUST believe in their politics and most of all, you MUST believe in their moral standards. No wavering is allowed and someone that doesn't follow these views, (betrayal!) will be booted out and never given and kind of support again. They are right and everyone else is wrong.

    There was much more to the article, but the cult mentality is what I keep thinking about. The more I watch what is unfolding with these primaries and what is being said and done by the republicans, the more I'm beginning to agree with the cult mentality assessment. Seeing that scares me.

    crapcha....workorit one....fitting

  • "Fair and Balanced" Dave on March 19, 2012 2:33 PM:

    Ronny may have put O'Connor and Kennedy on the court but he also put Scalia on the court and nominated Robert Bork. Poppy put Souter on the court but also put Clarence Thomas as well. Finally, Dubya nominated two of the courts most reliable right-wing votes in Roberts and Alito.

    Despite the whining of the National Review and other wingnut outlets, every Republican President since Reagan has put at least one staunch rightwing idealogue on the Court. By contrast, Clinton and Obama each nominated two centrists to the Court. The last President to nominate an actual liberal to the Supreme Court was LBJ when he nominated Thurgood Marshall.

  • smedley on March 19, 2012 3:03 PM:

    If this happened in 1957, how could it have been calculated to help Ike in his 1956 re-election?

  • smedley on March 19, 2012 3:04 PM:

    Oops. re-read it with more comprehension. My bad.

  • Anonymous on March 19, 2012 7:01 PM:

    Worse yet, St. Ronald Reagan was responsible for Sandra Day O’Conner

    The same one who famously said, upon hearing that Gore was thought to have won FL, "That's terrible!"? Yeah, I can see how the Right would regret her appointment...