Holding a misguided grudge

HOLDING A MISGUIDED GRUDGE…. Apparently, some of the conservative criticism of Judge Sonia Sotomayor is not just about her or her record. Some of it, the NYT‘s Neil Lewis reports today, has to do with the fact that liberals hurt conservatives’ feelings in 1987 and 1991.

[T]he fervor with which some of those criticisms have been hurled may not be just about Judge Sotomayor. Those emotions, say people who have followed the confirmation wars, are often fueled by the sense of grievance among conservatives and Republicans who say their judicial nominees have been treated unfairly and, sometimes, disrespectfully.

Richard A. Epstein, a noted libertarian-conservative scholar at the University of Chicago, said he had concluded that the case against Judge Sotomayor was thin but that it was energized by the anger over the treatment of past conservative nominees like Robert H. Bork, who lost his confirmation battle in 1987, and Clarence Thomas, who was narrowly confirmed four years later.

“There’s no question that those hurts remain powerful today,” Professor Epstein said in an interview. “And there’s no question that Breyer and Ginsburg were never subjected to anything remotely like that,” a reference to Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the last two Democratic nominees, both of whom faced relatively easy confirmation proceedings.

As conservative whining goes, this is awfully weak. Bork isn’t some kind of conservative martyr, inspiring baseless conservative attacks 22 years later. He was a “right-wing nut” who was so far from the American mainstream, he drew bipartisan opposition. For that matter, Clarence Thomas was not only a conservative ideologue with limited judicial experience, he also faced credible accusations of sexual harassment — and was confirmed anyway.

As for Breyer and Ginsburg, they were far less controversial because, well, they were far less controversial. They were both qualified, mainstream jurists, recommended to a Democratic president by the lead Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time. They faced “relatively easy confirmation proceedings” because they, unlike Bork and Thomas, were better nominees for the high court.

And yet, two decades after Bork and Thomas, the right is feeling sorry for itself, and using the old controversies as a justification for new unfair attacks on Sotomayor. Maybe it’s time for conservatives to get over it?