A “Status Quo Election?” Not Really: The Loss of Senate Moderates

Aaron Blake explores the (I believe strong) possibility that we’ll continue to have President Obama, a Democratic Senate, and a Republican House after election day.  He calls that a “status quo election.”

I don’t think that’s right.  The Senate is going to be a very different place, as Senate moderates from both parties leave.  With the absence of Conrad, Huchison, Lugar, Nelson, and Snowe, the Senate is going to be a much harder place to get things done.  In fact, in a forthcoming piece I trace much of the decline in bipartisan overrides of Supreme Court statutory decisions to the decline of Senate moderates.

It also has implications for the Senate confirmation of future Supreme Court judicial nominees.  Here’s a brief excerpt from my piece:

The shift to explicit consideration of ideology and away from at least an ostensible focus on judicial competence has coincided with increasing partisan split on votes for Supreme Court judicial confirmations. Putting aside the contentious Bork hearings (to which I will return) and Justice Thomas’s confirmation vote, which occurred after a highly contentious hearing in which he was accused of sexual harassment, Supreme Court nominees until recently enjoyed bipartisan support in confirmation votes. Justices Scalia and Kennedy were approved on unanimous votes, and Justices Breyer and Ginsburg had few votes against them.

More recent votes have seen much more substantial opposition to nominees along party lines. Chief Justice Roberts had 22 votes cast against him, all by Democrats and without any objections raised to his qualifications. Justice Alito had 42 votes cast against him (two more than necessary for a filibuster, had Democrats decided to filibuster), gaining yes votes from only two Democrats. Justice Sotomayor had 31 votes cast against her, garnering the support of nine Republicans. The most recent nominee, Justice Kagan, had 37 votes cast against her, gaining only five Republican votes. Opposing Senators did not raise any serious questions about the qualifications of any of these nominees.

Notably, the two Democrats voting for Justice Alito (Conrad and Nelson) will have left the Senate by 2013, and three of the five Republicans voting for Justice Kagan (Gregg, Lugar, and Snowe) will have left the Senate by 2013. Each of these Senators was known as a moderate.  Figure 14 shows the number of “No” votes received by each current member of the Supreme Court during the nomination process.



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