Thursday, June 4, 2009

Republican balancing act on Court nominee

As a conservative former Texas Supreme Court justice, Mr. Cornyn might be expected to make a tough intellectual case against Judge Sotomayor. But as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he also has to worry about how the confirmation battle plays across the nation. And his own future back home is tied somewhat to Hispanics who will be closely watching the confirmation proceedings.

Conflicting calls?

Elected to a second term last fall in a difficult year for his party, Mr. Cornyn said he saw no conflict among his ideological leanings, his responsibility for boosting Republican Senate candidates and his own home-state interests.

No conflicts?

He also said he would press to define the contours of Judge Sotomayor’s legal philosophy and remind Americans that Democrats were not alone in trying to put a Hispanic jurist in line for the Supreme Court.

A true point.

"I will bet there are a lot of people who don’t really remember Miguel Estrada,” Mr. Cornyn said, referring to the Honduran-born federal appeals court nominee put forward by President George W. Bush. Mr. Estrada was considered likely to be a future Supreme Court nominee before his nomination to the appeals court was blocked by a Democratic filibuster in 2003.

Why did the Democrats block Estrada? And Republicans, and conservatives, want some payback. That is how the game is played.

“I think it speaks well of Newt,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who met with Judge Sotomayor and said he did not believe she was racist. “There is no evidence of that.”

Speaks well of Newt that he flip-flopped so quickly? Had the decency to take back an unsupported, inflammatory charge? Nice Newt.

But in a sign that Republicans will not easily fall in line on the nomination, Mr. Graham said he remained troubled by her comments and painted himself as a likely vote against her.

Chuck Todd, of MSNBC, said that if the President "sent a ham sandwich" to the Senate, it would get 25 no votes. I imagine Graham, one of President Clinton's chief pursuers, would vote against the ham sandwich.

Despite his conservative credentials, Mr. Cornyn finds himself at odds with some on the right over more than just the tone of the nomination fight. He is also under fire for the way he is carrying out his responsibilities as chairman of the Senate Republican campaign operation.

Which points to that conflict between ideological purity and political pragmatism.

His decision to back Gov. Charlie Crist over a more conservative Republican for the Senate nomination in Florida and his courting of party moderates like Representative Michael N. Castle of Delaware for a Senate run there have drawn scorn from some conservatives, who accuse him of watering down the brand.

The brand is in deep trouble, and the right wing wants ideological purity.

Mr. Cornyn makes no apologies, saying he bases political decisions on a simple premise: “I want to win, and I don’t think the Republican Party wins becoming more and more insular.”

Mr. Cornyn argues that Republicans desperately need to become more inclusive, a factor that drove him to challenge the attacks on Judge Sotomayor and helps govern his view of the nomination. He said that he was all for a close examination of the nominee, but that scrutiny must focus on her judicial philosophy, qualifications and record, not her ethnicity or sex.

“She certainly has a distinguished career,” Mr. Cornyn said. “The real question is how she views her role as a judge: whether it is to advance causes or groups or whether it is to call balls and strikes.”

Justices do not call balls and strikes, they decide whether the pitchers and batters are playing according to the rules, and decide on the rules.

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