Nomination predictably sparks same-old rhetoric

Geoff Holtzman Deputy Bureau Chief, Talk Radio News Service
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Late Sunday afternoon I started hearing rumors that President Obama had settled on his pick for the next Supreme Court Justice. Later, just before I went to bed, my BlackBerry started buzzing with reports that indeed, the president had made his choice, and that he would be publicly announcing it early Monday morning. Well, as luck would have it, I had already booked a tour of the Pentagon for Monday morning at 10, the exact time the president would be unveiling his nomination.

When you tour the Pentagon, there are a few rules. Among them: no carrying any weapons of mass destruction. Check. No chewing gum. Check. And most importantly, no cell phone use (the guide makes everyone turn them off). Not wanting to cause a stir, I politely obeyed that last rule. But my obedience came with a price, I would not be able to read all the breaking news and Tweets from reporters covering the major announcement.

My tour ended around 11. Naturally, the first thing I did was turn my phone on and check Twitter to see what had been written about the announcement. As I had expected, based on numerous reports both Sunday and earlier Monday morning, the president had nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to replace the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens at the end of the summer. The next thing I did was check my inbox for press releases. Not surprisingly, I had already received more than a few.

Now, I don’t pretend to be a Supreme Court expert—I’ll leave that to my colleague—so I’ll spare you my misguided opinions on whether or not Ms. Kagan is qualified to serve on the high court. However, as someone who covers Congress, I plan on paying close attention to the forthcoming nomination process because I am interested in seeing how it plays out in a political context.

It’s no secret that the divide between the two major parties has only grown larger over the past few years. Now, thanks to one-party control of both chambers, the rise of the anti-big-government Tea Party movement and a monumental health care reform bill that re-ignited a once politically dormant legion of voters nationwide, that divide is arguably at an all-time high.

The first e-mail I read was a lengthy statement on the nomination from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a sure-to-be VIP in the months to follow. Near the end of his statement, Leahy said the following:

—“Among the most serious constitutional duties entrusted to the Senate is the confirmation of Supreme Court Justices. Americans are looking to Washington to cast aside the political rancor and partisanship that has fueled so many recent debates.”

Indeed, driven by such partisan rancor, the battle lines have been definitively drawn on every single substantive issue Congress has worked on lately. From health care, to extending unemployment benefits, to Wall Street reform, the debate has become fairly predictable. In a nutshell it’s this: if you’re a ‘D’, you’re probably with the president and his administration. If you’re an ‘R’, you’re opposed.

Case in point, the following three statements were sent to my inbox from Democrats Monday morning:

“President Obama has chosen a candidate who will protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Solicitor General Kagan’s outstanding service as a lawyer, professor, public servant, and administrator prepares her for this challenge, and she will come to the bench with a deep knowledge of the law and respect for all individuals.”

“Elena Kagan has won the respect and admiration of colleagues on both the left and the right for her legal and policy knowledge and for her success in working with advocates of a wide range of viewpoints. I have no doubt that she will bring the same skills to the Supreme Court, as its unprecedented third female justice, where I know that she will be mindful of the impact of the law on the lives of ordinary Americans.”

“It appears that Elena Kagan would bring a great deal of knowledge and real-world experience to the Supreme Court…Elena Kagan’s experience outside courtrooms should not be held against her.”

Which three Democrats issued those statements, you ask? I say, does it matter? To me, anyone with a D after their name could’ve written them. One hundred percent of Democrats (at least in the Senate) will do anything the current president asks or demands of them. During last year’s confirmation battle over Sonia Sotomayor, Democrats often chided Republicans, saying they wouldn’t even vote to confirm Moses if he had been nominated to serve (they’re still using that talking point, by the way). I don’t know about that, but let’s suppose the president had chosen a candidate completely lacking in qualification. I am willing to bet that most Democrats would have uniformly supported a quick confirmation.

To be fair, when it comes to solidarity, the same can be said of the other side as well. Here are some excerpts of a few e-mails I received this morning from Republicans.

“President Obama’s decision to nominate Elena Kagen to the Supreme Court demonstrates his willingness to sacrifice experience and judicial impartiality for political activism. Despite Ms. Kagen’s lack of judicial experience and limited legal practice, it is clear that she will use her position to push her personal and political agenda.”

“We know that several areas warrant close scrutiny. Ms. Kagan’s lack of judicial experience and short time as Solicitor General, arguing just six cases before the Court, is troubling.”

“There is nothing that requires the president to replace a liberal Justice with a liberal; but unfortunately it appears President Obama is doing just that. Though Kagan has no prior judicial record for the Senate to review, her role as an Obama-insider and senior official in the Administration indicates that she shares the same liberal judicial philosophy as the president and his top advisors.”

Again, I’d reveal the names of the Republicans that released these statements, but it’s a moot issue. They are Republicans, they CAN’T support anything this administration attempts to do. Especially with mid-terms coming up.

Listen, if you’re still not convinced that this is about anything more than D versus R, consider Arlen Specter. As a Republican last year, he voted against confirming Ms. Kagan as Solicitor General. Now, as a Democrat, he says he is open to supporting her confirmation to the Supreme Court. Really? Did she change that much over the past 12 months? Hmmmmmm.

The bottom line is this: In the end, Elena Kagan will be sworn in as our nation’s next Supreme Court Justice, probably sometime before this fall. The question is, will her confirmation process go smoothly? That all depends on whether or not the divide between parties diminishes or grows larger. And based on what I’m seeing so far, I’d say it’s safe to expect bumpy conditions this summer.

Geoff Holtzman is a Capitol Hill correspondent with the Talk Radio News Service. Previously, he worked as a producer for WMAL in Washington. Geoff is a lifelong resident of the Washington, D.C. area, and earned a degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Maryland. You can follow him on Twitter @hmanradio.