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Monday, August 27, 2007

WaPo sez Obama knew he should vote for Roberts' confirmation, but voted against for purely political reasons

Does the Washington Post not understand that in the rest of the United States outside the Beltway — and at least outside enclaves of refined intellectual disingenuousness like New York and San Francisco — a story like this ought to be headlined "Presidential candidate admits he allowed craven lust for office to override studied judgment on SCOTUS confirmation vote"?

Sen. Barack Obama had hired Pete Rouse for just such a moment.

It was the fall of 2005, and the celebrated young senator — still new to Capitol Hill but aware of his prospects for higher office — was thinking about voting to confirm John G. Roberts Jr. as chief justice. Talking with his aides, the Illinois Democrat expressed admiration for Roberts's intellect. Besides, Obama said, if he were president he wouldn't want his judicial nominees opposed simply on ideological grounds.

And then Rouse, his chief of staff, spoke up. This was no Harvard moot-court exercise, he said. If Obama voted for Roberts, Rouse told him, people would remind him of that every time the Supreme Court issued another conservative ruling, something that could cripple a future presidential run. Obama took it in. And when the roll was called, he voted no.

"Pete's very good at looking around the corners of decisions and playing out the implications of them," Obama said an interview when asked about that discussion. "He's been around long enough that he can recognize problems and pitfalls a lot quicker than others can."

Hypocrisy, thy name is Barack — and yet the WaPo seems to be oblivious to how its reporting of facts compels that conclusion:

"His familiarity with Washington makes him somebody whose judgment I trust," Obama said. And yet this is the Washington of "cheap political points" and "petty" partisanship that figures prominently in Obama's public speeches these days. "I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington," Obama tells his audiences. "But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change."

Unless ....

Could this be a Hillary-inspired venomous bite disguised as a puff-piece about a key Obama staffer? It's a sad state of affairs when a pundit from the heartland like me can't distinguish between simple MSM cluelessness and inspired MSM intrigue in cooperation (or at least sympathy) with a particular candidate. But there you have it, friends and neighbors. Perhaps you can sort this out in my comments section.

Posted by Beldar at 02:32 AM in 2008 Election, Law (2007), Politics (2007) | Permalink

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Comments

(1) steve sturm made the following comment | Aug 27, 2007 7:25:21 AM | Permalink

Is it hypocrisy, or was Obama simply being responsive to his supporters (both current and prospective)?

There are those who think a politician ought to do what the politician thinks is right, and regardless of whether the voters approve of such, and there are those who think politicians ought to do the things the voters want done.

I'm in the second group. I don't want my representatives pushing medicine down my throat (for example, with Bush's "I know you don't approve, but trust me, it's good for you" nomination of Harriet Miers). I think I'm smart enough to figure things out for myself, so I want them doing the things I want them to do.

Thus, I'd be a hypocrite if I criticized Obama for doing what his supporters wanted him to do.

(2) Geek, Esq. made the following comment | Aug 27, 2007 11:56:32 AM | Permalink

Beldar, to put things in legalese, it is simply not the case that the political calculation was a 'but for' cause of Obama voting that way.

First, note that Obama was thinking about voting for him--which is a far different thing than having decided to vote for him.

Moreover, an assumption of Rouse's advice was that Roberts would be behind some truly awful rulings (from the perspective of liberals/progressives). Given that Roberts has proved to be a more slickly packaged version of Scalia--one who pays lip service to precedent before shredding it--it would appear from the perspective of Obama and those who share his philosophy that voting against Roberts turned out to be the correct call.

(3) Tom from LA made the following comment | Aug 27, 2007 2:07:15 PM | Permalink

Doesn't sound like he is particularly interested in changing the ways of Washington, since he is doing his best to adopt them. In the unlikely event he does get to be President, I'm sure he won't be offended when the Republicans use the same calculations regarding his nominees.

(4) DRJ made the following comment | Aug 27, 2007 2:29:22 PM | Permalink

"Pete's very good at looking around the corners of decisions and playing out the implications of them," Obama said an interview when asked about that discussion. "He's been around long enough that he can recognize problems and pitfalls a lot quicker than others can."

Maybe Pete should be President.

(5) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 27, 2007 4:21:43 PM | Permalink

Geek, the only reason cited by Obama or his proxies in the article for why Obama should withhold his consent from the President's nominee is the craven, purely political one. The comment about deferrence to a president's choices to the degree of not opposing them for purely political reasons only makes sense if one's considering opposing them for ... purely political reasons.

Your after-the-fact rationale — that Roberts has turned out to be a more "slickly packaged version of Scalia" from the perspective of liberals — is at best a further indictment (this time on the merits) of Obama's judgment, not a defense. You're saying he was both wrong and craven. (In fact, it blinks reality to assert that anyone ought to be surprised by Chief Justice Roberts' votes so far; he wasn't exactly expected to be another Ginsberg, was he? Or even a Souter?)

(6) Geek, Esq. made the following comment | Aug 27, 2007 5:21:48 PM | Permalink

Beldar--how are we defining 'political' here--personal ambition or concern for the results of Roberts's ruling on the SCOTUS?

I would deny the former was decisive but would fully admit that the latter drove his vote.

(7) saveliberty made the following comment | Aug 27, 2007 6:10:09 PM | Permalink

Geek, what happened to the Ginsburg standard? Here's a woman who thinks that 12 year old's consent to have sex with adults is okay.

Isn't it more reasonable to posit that a judicial determination is closer to the laws actually written that the laws imagined or hoped for by the SCOTUS justices?

(8) saveliberty made the following comment | Aug 27, 2007 6:12:50 PM | Permalink

Oh for coherence! ack!

I meant to say that Roberts taking a less interpretative role in a ruling is more mainstream, if that should be the bar.

I would also point out that the ire after Kelo (pre Roberts) was on both right and left. Sometimes the assumption that the left wants the written word overruled or done away with is not correct.

(9) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 27, 2007 6:20:50 PM | Permalink

Geek: There's obviously a range of "how political" a vote refusing consent may be. Both parties have been guilty in the last few years of slowing down hearings and denying floor votes of district and circuit court nominees in order to "run out the clock" on an opposing president's term, without respect to the fitness or qualifications of the nominees affected. Those are pure political decisions, and I would argue that they are inconsistent with the sworn constitutional duties of the senators (from both sides) who've engaged in those tactics.

I also believe the Constitution envisions that senators ought to consent to presidential appointments who are objectively well qualified even if those senators hold different political views than the president or the appointee. The modern paradigm for good senatorial behavior in that regard -- something that used to be the rule, rather than the exception -- is the confirmation of Justice Ginsberg by 96/3, notwithstanding the fact that as a decade-long director of and general counsel to the ACLU, her personal politics and her likely judicial rulings could be predicted with near certainty to be the opposite of what would have been preferred by the Republican senators who almost universally voted to confirm her.

I think Obama's vote against Roberts' confirmation -- assuming that Obama genuinely believed that Roberts was objectively well qualified (which is almost beyond serious dispute) -- was equally reprehensible whether it was intended as an expression of his personal ambition to become President or his ambition on the part of his political party to oppose a Republican administration. Either way, he's putting politics above constitutional duty.

If he genuinely believed that his mandate as a senator is to vote to confirm, for example, only those judicial nominees who believe in a "living, breathing Constitution," and that no nominee who fails to hold that view is "objectively qualified," that would be a different story. That's how Sen. Clinton will characterize her vote, anyway. I tend to view that as being a fig leaf to conceal politics. But it's a fig leaf that Obama didn't bother to grasp. And it's that brazenness that surprised me about this story in the WaPo.

(10) steve sturm made the following comment | Aug 27, 2007 7:25:45 PM | Permalink

Beldar:

While I'm glad Roberts is on the Court, I see nothing wrong with the Democrats opposing his nomination. They have no obligation to support the nomination of someone who's going to rule in ways they don't like (i.e. 'you ain't qualified if you're going to vote like that')... and just because the GOP has a habit of rolling over for Democratic nominees doesn't mean that it's the right thing to do. I wish the GOP was as ruthless in opposing Democratic nominees and policy proposals as the Democrats have been and are in opposing anything coming out with an (R) next to it.

If one is looking for a reason to criticize Obama, I'd start with his even being willing to consider voting for a Bush nominee... and I'd follow it up with his having hired an adviser who is either too stupid or too egotistical to keep his mouth shut about the internal deliberations he has with his candidate.

(11) Enigmaticore made the following comment | Aug 27, 2007 8:12:40 PM | Permalink

"personal ambition or concern for the results of Roberts's ruling on the SCOTUS?

I would deny the former was decisive but would fully admit that the latter drove his vote."

Funny. I read the article and think that the only rational interpretation is the former, unless one is a partisan hack trying to defend the indefensible.

I guess that makes this reply an accusation about either your motives or your perceptiveness.

(12) Enigmaticore made the following comment | Aug 27, 2007 8:16:09 PM | Permalink

"If one is looking for a reason to criticize Obama, I'd start with his even being willing to consider voting for a Bush nominee"

So, Steve, you believe that it would be stupid of either party to allow confirmation unless they have, in their party, 60 elected Senators?

You must be a fan of a Supreme Court with 2-3 Justices, tops.

(13) steve sturm made the following comment | Aug 28, 2007 8:04:26 AM | Permalink

Enigmaticore: given how important seats on the Supreme Court are, a GOP nomination ought to be reason enough for Democrats to oppose the nomination (and vice versa for the GOP opposing Democratic nominations). Put another way, no GOP President is going to nominate people he thinks will rule in ways the Democrats like, so why should Democrats go along and vote to confirm? Why should either party subject itself and its supporters to a generation of bad decisions (from their perspective)? In order to avoid being accused of partisanship? I don't think so.

If this means a stalemate, where we end up with vacancies that can't be filled, so be it. Given the way the system currently works, perhaps the best way of keeping the unelected judiciary from sticking its nose into everything is to simply not replace those who retire or die off.

(14) TMac made the following comment | Aug 28, 2007 4:20:10 PM | Permalink

So Pemocrats should oppose Republican SCOTUS nominees because the nominees might rule in favor of upholding the Constitution? I suppose this means Democrats are in favor of the SCOTUS finding legal penumbras and adoopting international law.

(15) TMac made the following comment | Aug 28, 2007 4:22:31 PM | Permalink

Pardon the typo: Democrats, not Pemocrats.

(16) steve sturm made the following comment | Aug 28, 2007 4:33:49 PM | Permalink

guys, let's not delude ourselves into thinking that only our side is in favor of judges who uphold the Constitution. We simply have a different view as to what the Constitution says and means than do those on the other side. We think there's no constitutional right to an abortion, they think there is. we think there is nothing in the constitution that prohibits executing those who were minors at the time of the crime, the other side thinks the constitution does ban such executions. we think the constitution gives us the right to own guns, they don't. they think the constitution precludes torturing terrorists, we don't.

So it's not that Democrats ought to oppose GOP nominees because the nominee 'might rule in favor of upholding the Constitution', they should do so because GOP nominees have a different definition of what the Constitution allows and doesn't allow.

And we're no angels. There weren't too many conservatives shedding tears when the Supreme Court intervened the way it did in Bush-v-Gore, were there? if that wasn't judicial activism, I'm not sure what is.

(17) Friend #1 made the following comment | Aug 28, 2007 5:35:23 PM | Permalink

Nice post, Steve.

Beldar,

I am tempted to tweak you about Fredo's abrupt departure (apparently GWB's personal loyalty only stretched so far), but we have more pressing news to discuss.

What say you about Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho)? Seems that his guilty plea was a lie in an official proceeding. The penalty is clearly impeachment, no?

FWIW, we shouldn't care whether Sen. Craig is gay. It's a shame he feels compelled to publicly deny it. Of course, given Sen. Craig's anti-gay-rights record, might it be appropriate to amend your column just a bit? How about, "Hypocrisy, the name is LARRY."?

P.S. Lunch is on me & your other liberal friends next week. Please email

(18) Friend #1 made the following comment | Aug 28, 2007 5:40:35 PM | Permalink

Sorry. "Hypocrisy, thy name is LARRY."

Should have used the preview button ...

(19) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 29, 2007 11:26:57 AM | Permalink

Friend #1, I'll adopt and incorporate by reference DRJ's guest post on Patterico's blog with respect to Sen. Craig. On a personal basis, I feel sorry for him and his family that he apparently has some profoundly self-destructive issues. I am profoundly unreceptive, however, to his attempts to wriggle out from the consequences of his guilty plea; he should resign, not because he is (or may be) gay or a hypocrite, but because he's been convicted of public disorder in airport restroom, and that's inconsistent with the dignity and honor we expect from our senators.

(20) Jaye Ramsey Sutter, J.D. made the following comment | Aug 29, 2007 7:02:08 PM | Permalink

I am a liberal. Having said that, what bothers me about this story is that Obama had to actually have a staffer explain this to him?

He couldn't see the political implications of voting for Roberts? Judge Bork is a respected conservative intellectual but voting for him for the Court was political suicide for any liberal.

Obama isn't a craven, ambitious political animal. That is the reason he shouldn't be President. He actually doesn't know the political implications of a vote on a Supreme Court nominee?

Idiot. Give me Senator Clinton. She is a hell of a lot smarter than Obama.

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