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« NJ Gov Poll: Christie Leads Corzine | Blog Home Page | Polls Find Americans Approve of Sotomayor »

"Elections Have Consequences"

I wrote today about the role of the so-called "sherpa" in the Supreme Court confirmation process, getting some perspective from those who've held that role in past administrations. Among them was former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who was tasked with guiding first Harriet Miers, and then Samuel Alito through the process.

I started my conversation by asking him about his vote in 1998 to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Circuit Court -- he was one of 25 Republicans who backed her then. Coats explained that at the time, many Republicans were willing to defer to the president.

"We were really operating under the philosophy that elections have consequences, and the president had his or her right to select a nominee," he said. "I voted for a number of appointments where ideologically, people were on a different part of the spectrum than I was. But I operated on that basis."

Coats said, however, that Republicans have since had "some bitter pills" to swallow -- most recently with the nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, but having roots in the nomination of Robert Bork -- where Democrats did not show the same kind of deference to a Republican president. Threats of a filibuster against Alito were especially troubling.

He cautioned against using the Sotomayor nomination as an opportunity to rally under the Republican flag, but said they should engage in a vigorous debate on judicial philosophy. And to contrast with what he sees as Sotomayor's expansive view on the role of the judiciary ("make policy"), he reminded me of this quote from Alito during his confirmation process.

"Results-oriented jurisprudence is never justified, because it is not our job to try to produce particular results," Alito said. "We are not policymakers. We shouldn't be implementing any sort of policy agenda, or policy preference. The judiciary should always be asking itself whether it is straying over the bounds, whether it's invading the authority of the legislature."