A man of his word

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It was a profile in statesmanship, if not courage. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was the only Republican on the Judiciary Committee to vote yes on the Supreme Court nomination of the irrefutably well-qualified Sonia Sotomayor. That Graham was the only member of his party to reject the tit-for-tat pettiness that has marked recent judicial confirmations shames his colleagues on the panel and provides a model for Republicans in the Senate as a whole.

However much they cloaked their opposition in high-minded arguments about judicial philosophy and Sotomayor’s supposedly radical views, the other six Republicans on the 19-member committee were voting their party affiliation and political philosophy. The subtext was as obvious as it was crude: Republican and conservative good, Democrat and liberal bad. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah opposed Sotomayor even though he voted for Clinton nominees Ruth Bader Ginsburg (whose views as a lawyer were more controversial than Sotomayor’s) and Stephen G. Breyer (a former protege of Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy).

It would have been refreshing if the dissenters had owned up to believing -- as some senators of both parties do -- that the Supreme Court is just another political body and that the only consideration in confirmation is whether the nominee will hew to an ideological line. But the Republicans don’t even get points for intellectual honesty. When President George W. Bush’s nominees were before the Senate, they whined about the refusal of Democrats to focus on the sterling credentials of John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Now they are doing just that.


Their defense will be familiar to any parent: “He hit me first.” Indeed, Senate Democrats during the Bush administration abused their filibuster power to block even qualified judicial nominees. Like Sotomayor, Roberts and Alito were rated well qualified by the American Bar Assn. Yet half the Democrats, including then-Sen. Barack Obama, capitulated to politics and voted against Roberts.

During the Alito hearings, Graham reminded Democrats that “elections matter.” He was true to his word Tuesday in supporting Sotomayor. “I didn’t feel good about the election, but we lost,” Graham said. Then he offered his colleagues a lesson in political science: “What I’m trying to do with my vote is to recognize that [during the Bush administration] we came perilously close to damaging an institution, the judiciary, that has held this country together in difficult times.”

It’s too late for those who voted no to admit that Graham is right, but other Republican senators can redeem the party by heeding his counsel when they vote on the Senate floor.