Saturday, July 11, 2009

Supreme Court Spin

A little while ago, I went to the website to see if there was any breaking news. And I found an interesting report about the approaching confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Well, actually, the story isn't about the hearings, which will begin on Monday. It isn't, for example, about the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee or the current feelings of the members of the Senate.

It's about a poll in which 1,026 people were asked if they felt Sotomayor should be confirmed.

Now, this poll was conducted by CNN/Opinion Research Corp. I've heard things that cast some doubt on the reliability of the results of the organization's surveys. So I suggest that you take the findings with a grain or two of salt.

According to the poll, 47% of respondents favored her confirmation, 40% opposed it and 13% were not sure. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus three points.

Therefore, the poll is suggesting that, as of June 26–28 (which is when the survey was conducted), the best–case scenario for Sotomayor's opponents was that she was narrowly favored in what might be nearly a statistical tie. The best–case scenario for her supporters was that she could be comfortably ahead — but those who are undecided still hold the key.

The link on CNN's home page said, "Poll: Sotomayor confirmation favored," which may be accurate, but it still sounds slanted to me. After you click on the link, you get a much more realistic headline — "Poll: Nearly half support Sotomayor's confirmation" — with the story.

I think we'll get a good idea of Sotomayor's likelihood of being confirmed once the hearings begin.

But the point that the story sought to make is what I find really intriguing.

The story (which was written by CNN's Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser) quotes CNN Polling Director Keating Holland as saying the opposition to the nominee's confirmation is the highest from the party that is out of power in two decades. And that suggests the confirmation hearings "could turn into a partisan battle."

Two–thirds of Republicans oppose Sotomayor. In contrast, 53% of Democrats opposed Harriet Miers. And only 32% of Republicans opposed Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The article doesn't indicate which nomination in the last 20 years was the most contentious prior to this one. But my guess would be that it was either George H.W. Bush's nomination of Clarence Thomas in 1991 or Ronald Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork in 1987. Thomas was narrowly confirmed and still sits on the Supreme Court. Bork was defeated in the Senate.

I'm inclined to think it was the Bork nomination. His role in the "Saturday Night Massacre" during the Nixon presidency was still remembered and resented, and Democrats had just regained control of the Senate when Reagan nominated Bork. Thomas' hearings were contentious from the start because of his conservative views, but the opposition did not turn vehement until Anita Hill's explosive testimony. Democrats controlled the Senate during Thomas' hearings as well.

Whether it was Bork or Thomas doesn't really matter. What seems apparent to me is that the Sotomayor confirmation hearings have the potential to drain the administration of any momentum it may have — and that can have a severe impact on its ability to push through legislation dealing with health care or the environment or anything else.

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