Elections lend Kagan debate a more partisan tinge

Both sides capitalize on nominee; Sens. McCain, Hatch and Murkowski tout their "no" votes

Topics: Elena Kagan, Supreme Court,

Republicans running for re-election are coming out early against Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Democrats are using her picture to raise money.

This summer’s debate over Kagan’s nomination has taken on a particularly partisan tinge because it’s taking place just months before fall elections, even though her confirmation is not in serious doubt.

Last year, many Republicans stayed publicly uncommitted for weeks about how they would vote on Justice Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama’s first pick for the high court.

This time around, however, with the president’s popularity sagging and GOP senators eager to draw strong contrasts with him and other Democrats, several who are facing re-election have been quick to announce their plans to vote “no” on Kagan.

They include Arizona Sen. John McCain, Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

All were opponents of Sotomayor’s last year when she won just nine Republican votes. But most waited until later in the game to announce how they would vote, including Murkowski, who held out until the day before the roll call.

And Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has also been much quicker this year to announce his opposition to Kagan than he was to state his opposition to Sotomayor. Hatch doesn’t face voters until 2012, but he’s keenly aware that conservatives in his state are in no mood to tolerate lawmakers who side with Democrats, having just turned out fellow Utah Sen. Robert Bennett in a bitter intraparty fight.

“He has very clearly seen where the attitudes of the voters of Utah are right now,” said Gary Marx of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, a group that’s pressing Republicans and Democrats from right-leaning states to oppose Kagan.

“What you’re seeing is where there are senators and candidates who are closest to the people — those senators and candidates who are in election races or up for election — they’re the ones that are coming out most strongly against Kagan,” Marx said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans on Tuesday requested and won a one-week delay in sending Kagan to the full Senate for a vote — a routine move by the party out of power to register opposition to a nominee. But barring a surprise development, Kagan, 50, who has served as the Obama administration’s solicitor general, is on track to win confirmation by early August to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens and become the Supreme Court’s fourth woman.



In a year when job losses and economic doldrums are dominating voters’ attention, her nomination is hardly a central issue in most campaigns. But conservative activists have been urging GOP candidates to view a vote on Obama’s nominee as yet another chance to register opposition to the president’s agenda — and to a judge they argue would be a rubber stamp for it.

By the same token, Democrats are using Kagan’s nomination as a chance to raise money and stoke enthusiasm among the president’s supporters. The Democratic Party circulated an e-mail earlier this month that linked to a fundraising appeal bearing a photograph of Kagan and a bumper sticker-style “Kagan for Justice” banner.

Republicans seeking to succeed retiring senators or topple sitting Democrats have also been quick to say they would oppose Kagan if they had a vote. They include Arkansas Rep. John Boozman, running to oust Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln; Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, who’s seeking the seat of retiring Sen. Kit Bond; and tea party-backed Marco Rubio in Florida, who is running to succeed retired Sen. Mel Martinez. Former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte and conservative lawyer Ovide LaMontagne, who are vying to succeed retiring Sen. Judd Gregg, also have both said they’re against Kagan.

Bond, Martinez and Gregg all broke with their party’s leaders last year to back Sotomayor. Ayotte said shortly afterward that she, too, would have backed Obama’s first Supreme Court choice.

High court battles in the last 20 years have yielded similarly partisan results, becoming increasingly bitter proxy fights for each party’s vision of the role of the courts and opportunities for Republicans and Democrats to appeal to their core supporters on hot-button social issues such as abortion and gun rights.

But Supreme Court nominations before that were not as polarizing; members of the opposing party usually backed the president’s choice barring extraordinary circumstances. Hatch, for instance, supported every Supreme Court nominee he voted on for more than 30 years in the Senate — including Democratic-named Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer — until casting his “no” vote against Sotomayor last year.

Times are different now.

Last year marked the first time the politically active National Rifle Association waded into the Supreme Court fray, coming out in opposition to Sotomayor and then, shortly before her confirmation, declaring that it would count senators’ “yes” votes against them in their closely watched candidate ratings that go out to millions of gun-owning voters.

This year the NRA moved more quickly, announcing simultaneously that it would not only oppose Kagan but also punish senators in its candidate ratings if they support her confirmation — a factor that strategists in both parties acknowledge weighs heavily on Republicans and some Democrats from conservative-leaning states. The group said it began circulating a 90-second Web ad against Kagan this week.

“Gun owners in this country and NRA members are not only a loyal voting bloc, they’re a very savvy voting bloc, and they are paying close attention to these votes,” said Chris Cox, the organization’s top lobbyist.

Marx said the NRA grade could put pressure on Republicans and Democrats from conservative states who are facing voters this year, like Lincoln, and even some — like Alaska’s Sen. Mark Begich and Nebraska’s Sen. Ben Nelson — who don’t face re-election for another two or four years.

Marx’s group, the Judicial Crisis Network, is also running phone banks in South Carolina targeting Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Sotomayor supporter who has signaled he may also back Kagan.

“We know these are the types of folks who are active in Republican primaries — they’re active year in and year out,” Marx said.

Graham suggested at Kagan’s confirmation hearings, however, that he’s more inclined to approach Supreme Court nominations with an eye on another race: the 2008 presidential election that Obama won, thus handing him the power to name justices.

“Elections,” Graham told Kagan at the hearings, “have conseqeuences.”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>