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In the end, she ascends

The GOP's minimal options for blocking Sotomayor

I'm sticking with the Sonia Sotomayor story for the rest of the week, in case anyone wants to tune out now. As with all Supreme Court nominations, the initial flow of news is simply too copious to ignore. But here's the bottom line on this nominee:

Barring some stunningly adverse and unforeseen revelation (such as, she employed an illegal immigrant and didn't tell the White House; or, she didn't pay her taxes and didn't tell the White House), it's a virtual certainty that she will be confirmed. The Republican right will slash away, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh will stay in hyperbolic overdrive, conservative legal groups will raise a lot of money, GOP senators will furrow their brows and ask probing questions in committee, but in the end, she ascends.

This process will take months, but the numbers are inescapable. She needs only 51 votes on the Senate floor, and there are 59 sitting Democratic senators. She can be blocked from the floor via parliamentary maneuver if the Republicans stage a filibuster, but sustaining it would require 41 senators. Good luck with that. There are only 40 Republican senators. Would the two moderate Republican women from the blue state of Maine vote to sustain a filibuster? Would Republican Mel Martinez, an Hispanic who has already warned the Republicans about the political hazards of blocking Sotomayor, vote to sustain a filibuster?

And would other Republican senators dare try to mount a filibuster, and risk being exposed as hypocrites - given the fact that, back in 2005, so many of them publicly assailed the tactic of blocking judicial nominees via filibuster?

Here's Nevada Sen. John Ensign, at the time: "Filibustering of judicial nominations is an unprecedented intrusion into the longstanding practice of the Senate's approval of judges...the filibuster has never been used in partisan fashion to block and up-or-down vote on someone who has the support of the majority of the Senate."

And New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg: "Judicial nominations have the right to an up or down vote in the Senate." Filibustering "is inconsistent with over 200 years of tradition in the Senate and distorts our system of checks and balances."

And Louisiana Sen. David Vitter: A judicial nominee can't "even get an up or down vote on the floor? That's not fair. That's not fair in the minds of ordinary Americans."

And Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch: "What's wrong with taking a (floor) vote up or down? The Senate can't confirm nominees if senators can't vote for them."

And Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby: "I do not think that any of us want to operate in an environment where federal judicial nominees must receive 60 votes in order to be confirmed.

And Texas Sen. John Cornyn: Citing "200 years of consistent Senate and constitutional tradition," he supported "an up or down vote for all presidents' nominees, whether they be Republican or Democrat."

And Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell (the current minority leader): "Let's get back to the way the Senate operated for over 200 years, up or down votes on the president's nominee, no matter who the president is, no matter who's in control of the Senate. That's the way we need to operate."

More than a dozen others said much the same thing.

Actually, you have to feel a little sorry for those guys. They rushed to assail the evils of the filibuster in 2005 only because the outgunned Democratic senators were using the tactic to block 10 Bush judicial nominees. (And, absolutely, the hypocrisy goes both ways. Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, while defending his party's efforts to block those Bush picks for the lower courts, insisted in 2005 that the filibuster tactic "has been essential to America's checks and balances"...whereas, back in 1995, he had assailed the filibuster as a "dinasour" and "a relic of the ancient past.")

Nevertheless, these Republicans are all on record defending the sanctity of Senate floor votes; they'd cement their '09 image as the practictioners of No if they tried to block Sotomayor with the filibuster tactic they so recently condemned. They're free, of course, to fume about her on cable TV and in the blogosphere during the summer season, but when it comes time to count the votes, their success options will be minimal.


I just wrote this freelance piece about the demise of the newspaper foreign correspondent, a trend I briefly mentioned here a few months back. Granted, this journalistic topic seems unconnected to national politics. However, as the best TV series in history (that would be The Wire) makes abundantly clear, everything is connected.