Historically, the Senate looked at a president’s Supreme Court nominee’s qualifications to serve, not their political leanings. Senators realized that the president won the right to pick the Supreme Court when he won the election.

That changed in 1987 with President Reagan’s nomination of the highly-qualified Robert Bork. Judge Bork was rejected by a vote of 58 to 42, and opposition centered on his judicial philosophy rather than his qualifications. Only two Democrat Senators voted to confirm Judge Bork and six Republicans voted against him. (I never voted for John Warner after that. I didn’t vote against him in general elections … I just let the rest of Virginia decide those elections.) Justice Kennedy was later confirmed with no dissenting votes.

In 1991, Justice Souter received 90 votes in his confirmation.

Then came the Clarence Thomas nomination. After a vicious fight, Justice Thomas was confirmed on a razor thin 52-48 vote. Again, it was all about his judicial philosophy. By the way, his “story” was every bit as compelling as Sonia Sotomayor’s. Does anyone remember the news media trumpeting Clarence Thomas as a success story?

Even after the Democrats (with some Republican defections) changed the rules of the game, the Republicans still went back to voting for Democrat-nominated justices on the basis of qualifications. Ginsberg and Breyer received 97 and 87 votes, respectively.

Then, the next time a Republican president had a nomination, the Democrats went after him again. Chief Justice John Roberts was one of the most qualified nominees ever, yet 22 Senators — including Barack Obama — voted against him. They went after Samuel Alito even harder. Another very qualified judge, 42 Senators — again, including Barack Obama — voted against Justice Alito’s nomination.

I hope the Republicans in the U.S. Senate have learned something by this. I’m a “process” kind of guy. My instinct would be that the president won the election so he gets to choose. But if I were a U.S. Senator, I would announce that, until the Democrats start judging nominees on the basis of qualifications rather than philosophy, I would follow their lead and vote against Supreme Court nominees who didn’t share my views that the Supreme Court should decide cases on the basis of the Constitution’s original intent.

Sadly, I don’t think Senate Republicans have learned this lesson yet. But we’ll see.

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