Ideology Serves as a Wild Card in Senate Debate on Court Pick





A statistical model developed by Lee Epstein, a professor of law and political science at Washington University, and her colleagues, which incorporates newspaper editorials and other sources, suggests that confirmations have steadily grown more polarized over ideology in recent decades.

Since 1937, her model shows, the importance of nominees' qualifications has not changed. But ideology took on greater importance beginning in the 50's, with Brown v. Board of Education and conservative criticism of the Warren court. Ideology "exploded" after the Senate rejected Mr. Bork, Professor Epstein said.

Of the 156 Supreme Court nominees since the court was created, 35 have been rejected or withdrawn, according to the Congressional Research Service. Most of the 35 were clustered in times of turmoil like the Civil War and Reconstruction, when politics often trumped qualifications.

In 1869, more than a century before bloggers and cable pundits would turn up the heat on nominees, President Ulysses S. Grant nominated Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar, widely considered one of the nation's top legal minds. After seven bitter weeks, the Senate voted him down, 33 to 24, in part because he had pressed for the selection of federal judges on the basis of legal talent rather than political allegiance.

No nominee has been voted down since Robert H. Bork, President Ronald Reagan's conservative nominee in 1987. Harriet E. Miers withdrew last month because of criticism of her credentials, not her views.



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