Monday, July 27, 2009

The Sotomayor Vote (cont'd further)

I perhaps overstated the case in this post, when I said that the number of senators voting to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court doesn't matter, now that her confirmation seems assured.

I think it doesn't matter in the narrow sense that, once confirmed, a justice will act the same way on the Court, if he or she is confirmed with 51 Senate votes, as her or she would have acted having received 100 votes.

But it does matter in the sense that it indicates how Republicans are using their minority position in Washington, as they attempt to rebuild their support, and eventually re-take power.

Of the 40 Republicans in the Senate, my research shows that five have declared their support for the nomination, 14 have said they will vote "no", and 21 haven't declared their intentions. I suspect that Sotomayor will get no more than four votes from those 21 undecideds. So there might be a total of 31 "no" votes, rather than the 23-25 I was projecting earlier.

Her "yes" total will depend in part on whether the two ailing Democratic veterans, Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy, make the effort required to be there for the vote. With Sotomayor seemingly having at least 63 votes in her pocket, even without those two, there doesn't seem to be much of a reason for them to go to extraordinary lengths to make the vote.

The position that most Republicans are taking against the nomination, indicates a readiness to play hardball against President Obama, with possible implications for legislation, and other nominations, down the road. And that, of course, has possible implications for the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Also, the Republicans are following the precedent that the Democrats set, with their response to George W. Bush's nominations of Justices Roberts and Alito. Many Democrats opposed those nominations, more or less because those were not the judges they would have nominated, rather than because they found significant flaws in their qualifications.

Strong arguments can be made either way, as to whether senators should take into account how they think a prospective justice would vote on important issues, as opposed to a more narrow view of how to judge a nominee's qualifications. But it seems as though the days when Republican Ronald Reagan's nomination of Antonin Scalia could be unanimously supported by a Senate that included 47 Democrats, and Democrat Bill Clinton's nomination of Ruth Ginsburg was nearly-unanimously approved (three votes against) by a Senate with 44 Republicans, are over, perhaps forever.

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