When asked for his “model Supreme Court justice,” Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown paused as if he knew his answer might get him in trouble. “Ah … that’s a great question,” Brown replied. “I think Justice Scalia is a very good judge.”
Some in the audience booed and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren wasted no time trying to capitalize on Brown’s admiration for the conservative justice.
Immediately after their second debate, Warren took to Twitter to criticize Brown’s answer no fewer than three times.
“Who is Brown’s favorite Supreme Court justice?” she asked. “Antonin Scalia, who is ‘adamantly opposed’ to Roe v Wade.”
“Brown a moderate?” Warren asked next. “Scalia, his ‘model’ Supreme Court justice said basis of Roe v Wade was ‘simply a lie.’”
If her point wasn’t already clear, Warren tweeted just minutes later, “Tonight, Scott Brown said his model Supreme Court Justice was Scalia.”
She included video of Brown’s mention of Scalia. Brown also praised John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy and even Democratic appointee Sonia Sotomayor.
Brown may now face attack ads linking him to every controversial ruling or opinion of the Supreme Court’s most outspoken conservative justice.
Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, will figure prominently as Warren has tried to cast doubt on Brown’s pro-choice credentials.
Brown has insisted that he and Warren hold the same position on abortion. She has tried to create distance between the two of them, pointing to his support for an amendment designed to overturn the Health and Human Services Department’s contraception mandate.
Scalia voted with the anti-Roe minority in the closely decided Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision in 1992.
Massachusetts Democrats had previously expressed skepticism about Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s pro-choice stance during his 1994 and 2002 statewide campaigns. Romney later sought the Republican presidential nomination as a pro-life candidate.
Warren’s tactic is similar to one Democratic Sen. John Kerry used when popular Republican Gov. William Weld ran against him in 1996.
Weld was staunchly pro-choice, once calling ninth-month abortions “a price I would pay in order to have government stay out of the thicket.”
But Kerry argued that electing Weld to the Senate would lead to committee chairmanships for Republican North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, a strong pro-life conservative. Kerry tied Weld to Helms even though the Republican’s wife had donated money to Helms’ Democratic challenger.
Weld aggressively distanced himself from Helms, saying he might not vote to retain the North Carolina senator as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
This later came back to haunt Weld. When President Bill Clinton tapped Weld for an ambassadorship in 1997, Helms blocked the nomination.
Warren may also attempt to use Scalia as a wedge between socially conservative Democrats and socially liberal independent voters. Brown needs both voting blocs.
Brown can counter that both of Massachusetts’ Democratic senators voted to confirm Scalia in 1986, including Warren’s would-be colleague Kerry. Massachusetts is also home to a large number of Scalia’s fellow Italian-Americans, many of them swing voters.
How many votes that aren’t already in Warren’s camp might be moved by Scalia?
An August FindLaw.com survey found that two-thirds of Americans couldn’t identify a single Supreme Court justice and only 1 percent could name all nine.
Scalia tied with Clarence Thomas for the second best-known justice, behind Chief Justice John Roberts, but only 16 percent of those polled could name him.
Warren’s campaign is likely to try raise that number in Massachusetts.
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