What age would that be, and which Republican president? That’s not meant as a criticism of the underlying argument from CNN’s John King in this clip that the GOP and Senate Republican caucus sent out on social media and e-mail this afternoon. King’s correct in pointing out, to which Dana Bash nodded her assent, that Amy Coney Barrett is so obviously qualified that her confirmation should get wide bipartisan support. After all, Senate Republicans almost unanimously supported Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a 96-3 vote in 1993 despite her explicit support for abortion rights in the hearing.
I’m just curious as to how far King thinks we need to go back in order to find that kind of comity on a Republican Supreme Court nominee:
King clearly thinks that Trump’s an exception, so there’s little point in belaboring his previous two picks beyond a quick recap. Neil Gorsuch won confirmation on a 54-45 vote after having served more than ten years on the Tenth Circuit, a vote which took a follow-up “nuclear option” to Harry Reid’s 2013 rule change to accomplish. The blocked nomination of Merrick Garland hung over that appointment (which had nothing to do with Trump), so there’s some partisan context for that. Brett Kavanaugh’s experience also included more than a decade on the DC Circuit, but he only got confirmed 50-48 in a process marred by partisan character assassination and baseless charges of teenage misconduct.
Like I said, King does note that it would be different under “another Republican president.” What about Samuel Alito? He had served 16 years on the Third Circuit when George W. Bush nominated him for the Supreme Court. When his confirmation vote took place in 2006, he only passed 58-42, with only four Democrats voting for his confirmation. (John Roberts did fare better in 2005, getting a 78-22 vote to replace William Rehnquist as Chief Justice after only a couple of years on the DC Circuit.) The previous Republican president to Bush 43 was Bush 41, who nominated David Souter (confirmed 90-9) and Clarence Thomas (confirmed 52-48 after a bitter confirmation process).
For fun, we can also throw in Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork, who was clearly qualified but who got blocked in a then-unprecedented partisan filibuster. There was more to that than ideology; conservatives sometimes forget that Bork was the ultimate hatchet man in Watergate’s Saturday Night Massacre, for which Democrats never forgave him.
In short, the last thirty years shows that Democrats have used this process as a partisan battlefield, even if we excuse Bork’s block from this record. Five of the seven previous nominees (including Barrett, prospectively) over that time by three different Republican presidents have only gotten confirmed on entirely party-line votes or very nearly so. None of those five got “70 or more votes” despite being well qualified for the position.
What about Supreme Court confirmations from Democratic presidents in the same period? Let’s start with Garland and go backwards:
- Merrick Garland: blocked before Judiciary Committee hearing
- Elena Kagan: confirmed 63-37 (note: with no judicial experience at all)
- Sonia Sotomayor: confirmed 68-31
- Stephen Breyer: confirmed 87-9
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg: confirmed 96-3
King’s making a good point about the partisan nature of these proceedings. He’s putting the blame on the wrong party … literally. This is a problem that long precedes Donald Trump, but at least Trump and Mitch McConnell understand how to deal with it.