Political Animal

Blog

August 30, 2011 4:45 PM It’s amazing Ginsburg is even on the bench

By Steve Benen

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg believes her nomination would probably be defeated if it came up today. She’s correct.

Ginsburg said that to practice for her Senate confirmation hearings, White House staffers in mock hearings grilled her on her work for the ACLU. During those mock hearings she told them: “There’s nothing you can do to get me to bad mouth the ACLU.”

Such grilling, though, did not happen, she said. She was confirmed 96-3.

“Today, my ACLU connection would probably disqualify me,” she said.

Ginsburg was the former director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, which would seem to make her a left-wing radical in the eyes of the Republican Party.

And yet, in 1993, Ginsburg was confirmed by the Senate on a 96-to-3 vote. That’s not a typo; here’s the roll call. Note that plenty of Republican senators whose names will sound familiar — Chuck Grassley, Kay Bailey Hutchison, John McCain, Mitch McConnell — all voted for her nomination. (Then note that in 2010, Elena Kagan confirmed on a 63-to-37 vote — and Grassley, Hutchison, McCain, and McConnell all voted against her.)

Indeed, let’s also not forget the historical context. In 1993, then-President Clinton reached out to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a leading senator on the Judiciary Committee, even though Republicans were in the minority. Clinton solicited suggested nominees for a Supreme Court vacancy, and Hatch recommended Ginsburg. Clinton agreed and Ginsburg sailed through.

This isn’t ancient history; it was just 18 years ago. The radicalization of Republican politics in the years since has been so successful, the scenario itself seems vaguely surreal, if not completely bizarre. I mean, really — a Republican senator, considered conservative by most standards, recommended a Democratic president nominate a liberal ACLU veteran for the Supreme Court? And nearly every Senate Republican went along with this, without any controversy?

In 2011, if President Obama even considered the former director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project for a Supreme Court vacancy, Republicans would be apoplectic and many Senate Democrats would likely balk, fearing voter backlash.

The political center of gravity has moved rather dramatically in a very short period of time.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

Post a comment
  • jjm on August 30, 2011 4:55 PM:

    "The political center of gravity has moved rather dramtically in a very short period of time."

    I believe that Fox News didn't exist yet when Ginsburg was nominated by ORRIN HATCH.

    The political center of anti-gravity has been moved by the financial industry, the oil industry, and the military contractors. And Rupert Murdoch. No surprise there.

  • DAY on August 30, 2011 4:59 PM:

    -and Hatch has a primary challenger- too his right!

  • SD Matt on August 30, 2011 5:02 PM:

    So the dems don't try or if they do like with the recent noble prize winning economist who was rejected they don't get outraged. Republicans play serious hardball and we're led by the compromiser. Stand up to bullies or suffer their will.

  • Trollop (now super Emo!) on August 30, 2011 5:09 PM:

    Dems are dickless has-beens (if indeed they ever were, hard to tell.., fixed it for you Matt. This dramatic movement has moved a lot further under the current pussy regime.

  • jdog on August 30, 2011 5:12 PM:

    I don't know when Hatch recommended Ginsberg, but I according to Jeffery Toobin (in The Nine) it was Attorney General Janet Reno who suggested Ginsberg.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on August 30, 2011 5:21 PM:

    Mr. Benen just destroyed any hope of Hatch being reelected.

  • K Wilson on August 30, 2011 5:30 PM:

    "The political center of gravity has moved rather dramtically in a very short period of time."

    Well, sort of. Much of the right has moved much further right, while the left has stayed about where it was. If the political "center of gravity" is calculated like the physical one, then that's true. But politics is not engineering, and I don't think the concept of center of gravity is very useful when one side refuses to cooperate or compromise.

  • whichwitch on August 30, 2011 5:32 PM:

    We've moved so far to the right that the Democratic Party of today reminds me of the GOP 18 years ago.

  • Goldilocks on August 30, 2011 5:55 PM:

    The political center of gravity has moved rather dramatically in a very short period of time.
    - as it did in Germany in 1933. Not to be alarmist, mind you.

  • Anonymous on August 30, 2011 5:57 PM:

    Conversely, one of the things that might have killed Harriet Miers with the Right is that Harry Reid recommended her to Bush.

  • Greentaxman on August 30, 2011 5:58 PM:

    The dysfunction in the Federal Court confirmation process just keeps getting worse and worse. People of good will can differ as to whether any President's nominee, as long as they meet the intellectual rigor required for such positions, should be confirmed regardless of judicial/political philosophy. My view is that elections have consequences and Presidents should get to shape the Courts as long as the nominees meet the historical standards for service on the Federal judiciary. I thought Bork met these standards (although I strongly disagreed with his views) but Thomas did not. Why was Scalia qualified (confirmed unanimously or almost unanimously) but Bork was not? If both were on the Court would their voting records differ? There is nothing in the Constitution, last time I checked, that says that there is a limit to how many Conservatives or Liberals (I use these terms as they are commonly used) can be appointed to the Federal Bench. While many Bush nominees did not meet these standards and I believe all of Obama�s nominees do, many more Bush nominees were confirmed at a comparable stage of their respective Presidencies. In today's climate I think no nominee of Obama's to replace one of the five sitting conservatives on the Supreme Court could be confirmed. Republicans will filibuster and point out Obama's rejection of Roberts and Alito. Only when the Times, the Wash. Post and CNN make this a major issue and call out Republicans as to how they have unilaterally amended the Judicial confirmation process to the Constitution will this issue get some public traction. Until some how the public starts paying attention to what is going on progressives will continue to lose the judicial confirmation battle that has become so politicized.

  • Doug on August 30, 2011 6:56 PM:

    "We've moved so far to the right that the Democratic Party of today reminds me of the GOP 18 years ago." whichwitch @ 5:32 PM

    Then you must be remembering an entirely different GOP than the one I recall.
    The one I remember from the '80s was dominated by "voodoo" economics, the two Pats (Robertson and Buchanan, thereby feeding into BOTH the "christian" and racist bases) and jingoistic military posturing that risked national bankruptcy AND WWIII. But, as you say, other than that today's Democrats are the spitting image of the 1980's Republicans.
    Perhaps time has softened MORE than your harsh memories...

  • rrk1 on August 30, 2011 7:30 PM:

    The majority of the country hasn't moved so far to the right. The wholly bought Congress no longer represents its constituents, but their campaign contributers. Then there's Fox Faux News, and hate radio, and people who don't know they're voting against their own interests because they don't really have any choices. Yes, people are angry, but they aren't so right wing, because Social Security, Medicare, and the programs of the social safety net are all popular. So this move to the right is really just more bullshit.

  • JW on August 30, 2011 8:39 PM:

    "The political center of gravity has moved rather dramatically in a very short period of time".

    Center of gravity? My, what a polite way of referring to a fascist movement.

  • Daddy Love on August 30, 2011 11:44 PM:

    "The political center of gravity has moved rather dramatically in a very short period of time."

    We're all keying on this, it seems. I would say instead that the political center of gravity in the Senate has moved, and not that of the nation as a whole. And that specific center of gravity has moved only because the GOP has decided to become an obstructionist bloc instead of a political party. Dare we say terrorists?

  • Sarah on August 31, 2011 3:43 AM:

    Then there's Fox Faux News, and hate radio, and people who don't know they're voting against their own interests because they don't really have any choices. Sarah from zetaclear reviews.

  • Polijay on August 31, 2011 6:57 AM:

    Know why it has shifted to fast? Because of the overreach of the health care bill. It was a monstrous law with all kinds of goodies and hidden regulations and the American people think they were fooled into handing over their freedoms.
    It is unpopular just like the president. But of course it is all because people are racist that gravity has shifted.

  • Yellow Dog on August 31, 2011 8:42 AM:

    No, the political center of gravity has NOT moved dramatically.

    What has moved dramatically is the perception of the political center - the Overton window.

    Repugs have successfully cowed Democrats into thinking they have to vote like right-wing freakazoids to get elected. Democrats vote like right-wing freakazoids, lose to genuine right-wing freakazoids because liberal and real Democrats stay home in disgust, and Democrats take as the lesson that voting like right-wing freakazoids is not right-wing enough.

    The political center of actual voters remains left of center - higher taxes on the rich, jail corporate criminals, hands off Social Security and Medicare, and restore the Warren Court.

    It's craven, worthless Democratic politicians who are terrified of an right-wing electorate that doesn't exist.

  • DBL2 on August 31, 2011 8:54 AM:

    You are probably right about the change on Capital Hill. The Republicans have moved right and the Democrats have moved left. There are few left in the middle.

    Nonetheless, I disagree with your premise about the change in willingness to approve judicial nominations. What you are seeing is payback for Democratic filibusters of Republican nominees during the Bush administration. Numerous highly qualified nominees to the Court of Appeals were defeated for political reasons. That changed the game. It was no longer a matter of looking at a nominee's qualifications to be a judge - as was the case with Justice Ginsburg - it became a question of looking at the nominee's politics. And yes, under that standard, Justice Ginsburg could not be confirmed today.

    How we can get back to what we once had, I don't know. It would help if the Democrats apologized for torpedoing Robert Bork's nomination. That started it all. Then the Republicans could apologize for torpedoing Goodwin Liu's nomination. But change requires change on both sides.

  • G.Kerby on August 31, 2011 10:01 AM:

    It would help if the Democrats apologized for torpedoing Robert Bork's nomination. That started it all.

    cough ... cough ... Abe Fortas ... cough ...

  • whichwitch on August 31, 2011 11:04 AM:

    @Doug - I was referring to Ginsberg's nomination & confirmation. A woman with similar qualifications would not even be considered by a Democratic president today - partly because the right is over-the-edge crazy now and the Dems deal with it the only way they know how...moving to the right more that the left.

  •  
  •  
  •