While I agree with Quin that the Republican campaign against Sonia Sotomayor left a lot to be desired, it is nevertheless part of a pattern of slow but real progress toward taking judicial nominations -- especially nominations to the Supreme Court -- as seriously as the other side does. Republican presidents have historically nominated a combination of moderates (sometimes outright liberals) and conservatives while Democratic ones increasingly moved toward liberal litmus tests; Republican senators continued to vote overwhelmingly for liberals nominated by Democratic presidents long after Democratic senators stopped supporting qualified conservative nominees.
The result of that imbalance was predictable: a court that could at best nibble away at a half century of liberal jurisprudence despite an ostensible conservative majority. The traditional conservative understanding of the Constitution continued to erode, not only (but not least) because of an indifference to who was being nominated. Qualifications matter, elections have consequences, but the raw truth is that ideology and judicial philosophy can no longer be ignored.
The first real signs that things were starting to change came under George W. Bush. Outspoken public opposition by conservatives and Republican senators to Harriet Miers -- as well as the largely behind-the-scenes campaign against a potential Alberto Gonzales nomination -- showed that the right was no longer going to accept stealth nominees, especially when there is a clear, established bench of qualified legal conservatives available. The fact that Republicans look like they are going to vote against Sotomayor 31 to 9 -- including Republicans like Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch who have never voted against a Supreme Court nominee in their long careers -- is more progress, even if there is still a long way to go.
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