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Republican Opposition to Sotomayor Marks Largest Supreme Court Confirmation Vote Dissent in GOP History

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Last week's vote in the U.S. Senate confirming Sonia Sotomayor as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court was noteworthy foremost, of course, for Sotomayor being the first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the Court.

But the Senate vote was also significant for the Republicans and what emerged as a historic vote for the GOP in its own right - the largest number of Republicans to ever vote against a Democratic president's nominee to the Court.

Since the Republican Party's formation in 1854, the Senate has voted on 30 Democratic presidential nominees to the Supreme Court. Twenty-seven of these nominees, including Sotomayor, have been confirmed.

· Fourteen nominees were confirmed by voice vote: Abe Fortas (1965), Arthur Goldberg (1962), Byron White (1962), Frederick Vinson (1946), Harold Burton (1945), Wiley Rutledge (1943), Robert Jackson (1941), James Byrnes (1941), Frank Murphy (1940), Felix Frankfurter (1939), Stanley Reed (1939), John Hessin Clarke (1916), Rufas Peckham (1895), and Edward White (1894).

· An additional thirteen nominees were confirmed on a formal roll call vote: Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer (1994), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1993), Thurgood Marshall (1967), Sherman Minton (1949), Tom Campbell Clark (1949), William Douglas (1939), Hugo Black (1937), Louis Brandeis (1916), James Clark McReynolds (1914), Melville Fuller (1888), Lucius Lamar (1888), and Nathan Clifford (1858).

· Another three nominees were ultimately rejected by the Senate: Wheeler Peckham (1894), William Hornblower (1894), and Jeremiah Black (1861).

Of the 26 such nominees by Democratic presidents who were confirmed prior to Sotomayor since 1858, just 166 'nay' votes were cast against them collectively - the majority of which, but far from all, were registered by Republicans. This averages to just 6.4 'nay' votes per confirmed nominee and 13.8 'nay' votes for those 12 justices confirmed via roll call votes before Sotomayor. Sotomayor received 31 votes against her nomination last week - all by Republicans.

The Sotomayor vote is significant in that it marks one of the most unified Republican fronts against a nominee by a Democratic President in the 151 years since the Party's first such vote in 1858 when President James Buchanan nominated Nathan Clifford.

Prior to Sotomayor, the largest number of total votes cast against a Democratic presidential Supreme Court nominee since the turn of the 20th Century was 22 - when Woodrow Wilson put his economic adviser Louis Brandeis up for confirmation. But of the 40 Republicans in the Senate at that time, just 21 voted against Brandeis, or 52.5 percent of the caucus (one Democrat joined in opposition).

Another controversial Democratic presidential nominee in the 20th Century was Hugo Black, whose 1937 nomination by FDR made it through the Democratic-dominated Senate, but only just as rumors of Black's association with the KKK began to surface in the media. Ultimately, Black was confirmed on a 63 to 16 vote, with 10 of the GOP caucus' 16 members voting against the nominee (62.5 percent in opposition).

When Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court nominee, was put up for confirmation by LBJ in 1967, only one Republican Senator (Strom Thurmond of South Carolina) voted 'nay' among the 36-member GOP caucus. The other 10 votes against Marshall all came from Southern Democrats.

Republican opposition to the 21 Democratic presidential Supreme Court nominees who received a confirmation vote in the 20th Century therefore pales in comparison to the 77.5 percent of Republicans who voted against Sotomayor last week.

In fact, there were more Republican caucus votes cast against Sotomayor than Republican votes cast against the last seven Democratic presidential nominees combined: Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Thurgood Marshall, Abe Fortas, Arthur Goldberg, Byron White, and Sherman Minton.

Even going back to the mid-1850s, after the formation of the Republican Party, only one Democratic presidential Supreme Court nominee has received more 'nay' votes than Sotomayor - Grover Cleveland's rejected nominee Wheeler Peckham in February of 1894 (who was rejected on a 32 to 41 vote).

However, opposition to Peckham's confirmation, as well as President Cleveland's other rejected nominee, William Hornblower (who received 30 'nay' votes), was led not by Republicans, but by fellow New York Democratic Senator David B. Hill, along with pro-Silverite Democratic Senators (Hornblower himself was actually a Democrat).

The other Democratic presidential nominee that was defeated in the GOP era was Clifford Black, a Buchanan nominee from 1861. Criticism of Black, however, was not simply led by anti-Buchanan Republicans, but also by prominent Democratic Senator Stephan A. Douglas.

Republican opposition to Sotomayor, at more than three-quarters of its caucus, therefore stands as one of the most unified fronts against a Democratic president's nominee in Republican Party history, and the most unified dissent since the turn of the 20th Century.

The vote is also noteworthy, as Smart Politics reported last week, in that the GOP Senators voting against Sotomayor represented states with the largest percentages of Hispanics in the Republican caucus, and were involved in the most competitive races during their last election cycle.

With its Sotomayor vote, the Republican Party has now emulated the recent voting practices of the Democratic Party, who has been much more inclined to vote against Republican presidential Supreme Court nominees in recent years in an era of increasingly bitter partisanship in Washington, D.C.

· In 2006, 91 percent of Democrats (40 of 44) voted against George W. Bush nominee Samuel Alito.
· In 2005, 50 percent of Democrats (22 of 44) voted against John Roberts' confirmation.
· In 1991, 81 percent of Democrats (46 of 57) voted against George H.W. Bush's nominee, Clarence Thomas.
· In 1987, 96 percent of Democratic Senators (52 of 54) voted against Ronald Reagan's rejected nominee, Robert Bork.

Senate Voting Record Towards Democratic Presidential Supreme Court Nominees, 1858-2009

Nominee
President
Date
Vote
GOP
Sonia Sotomayor
Obama
Aug 2009
68-31
40
Stephen Breyer
Clinton
Jul 1994
87-9
44
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Clinton
Aug 1993
96-3
43
Thurgood Marshall
LBJ
Aug 1967
69-11
36
Abe Fortas
LBJ
Aug 1965
Voice
32
Arthur Goldberg
Kennedy
Sep 1962
Voice
36
Byron White
Kennedy
Apr 1962
Voice
36
Sherman Minton
Truman
Oct 1949
48-16
42
Tom Campbell Clark
Truman
Aug 1949
73-8
42
Frederick Vinson
Truman
Jun 1946
Voice
38
Harold Burton
Truman
Sep 1945
Voice
38
Wiley Rutledge
FDR
Feb 1943
Voice
38
Robert Jackson
FDR
Jul 1941
Voice
28
James Byrnes
FDR
Jun 1941
Voice
28
Frank Murphy
FDR
Jan 1940
Voice
23
William Douglas
FDR
Apr 1939
62-4
23
Felix Frankfurter
FDR
Jan 1939
Voice
23
Stanley Reed
FDR
Jan 1938
Voice
16
Hugo Black
FDR
Aug 1937
63-16
16
John Hessin Clarke
Wilson
Jul 1916
Voice
40
Louis Brandeis
Wilson
Jun 1916
47-22
40
James McReynolds
Wilson
Aug 1914
44-6
44
Rufas Peckham
Cleveland
Dec 1895
Voice
44
Edward White
Cleveland
Feb 1894
Voice
40
Wheeler Peckham*
Cleveland
Feb 1894
32-41
40
William Hornblower*
Cleveland
Jan 1894
24-30
40
Melville Fuller
Cleveland
Jul 1888
41-20
39
Lucius Lamar
Cleveland
Jan 1888
32-28
39
Jeremiah Black*
Buchanan
Feb 1861
25-26
26
Nathan Clifford
Buchanan
Jan 1858
26-23
20
* Nominee rejected by the U.S. Senate. Far right column denotes the number of Republican Senators in the U.S. Senate at the time of the confirmation. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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2 Comments


  • Lets get used to it. It looks as if like the republicans have a strategy that is now becoming more obvious. That is one of "anti Obama". I believe that they smell blood in the water and it is best to situate themselves distinctly apart from any initiative that might have Obama's fingerprints on it.

    Who knows, it might be a wonderful strategy "if" the wheels fall off the Obama juggernaut. But if it could also prove to be hugely unsuccessful if things turn around in a measurable and meaningful way. Otherwise its just politics as seen through the eyes of a party looking to move ahead. Reminds me of the Democrats during GW Bush's term.

  • There is no real value in these debates anymore. It is simply a showcase for senators to deliver nonsequitor rants and placate the most extreme elements in their base. Sure, the split in the vote itself is embarassing to the Republican party, but not nearly as embarassing as the words coming out of their mouths. It's time for us to grow up and debate real issues.

  • Leave a comment


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