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Wed Dec 26, 2012, 11:02 PM

The N.R.A. at the Bench by Linda Greenhouse

There has been plenty written about the National Rifle Association in recent days. But nothing that I’ve seen has focused on the gun lobby’s increasingly pernicious role in judicial confirmations. So here’s a little story.

Back in 2009, when President Obama chose Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his first Supreme Court nominee, the White House expected that her compelling personal story, sterling credentials, and experience both as a prosecutor and, for 17 years, as a federal judge would win broad bipartisan support for her nomination. There was, in fact, no plausible reason for any senator to vote against her.

The president’s hope was Senator Mitch McConnell’s fear. In order to shore up his caucus, the Senate Republican leader asked a favor of his friends at the National Rifle Association: oppose the Sotomayor nomination and, furthermore, “score” the confirmation vote. An interest group “scores” a vote when it adds the vote on a particular issue to the legislative scorecard it gives each member of Congress at the end of the session. In many states, an N.R.A. score of less than 100 for an incumbent facing re-election is big trouble. . .

At least Supreme Court confirmation debates take place in the light of day. . .

But the N.R.A. has begun to involve itself in lower court nominations as well, where it can work its will in the shadows. It has effectively blocked President Obama’s nomination of Caitlin J. Halligan to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that has been vacant since September 2005, when John G. Roberts Jr. moved to a courthouse up the street. . .

When I wrote a year ago about the fate of Caitlin Halligan’s appeals court nomination, I tried to puzzle out the basis for the opposition. Silly me, I thought it had something to do with Republicans not wanting a young (she had just turned 45), highly qualified judge sitting in the D.C. Circuit’s famous launch position (hello, John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Warren Burger . . .)

Now I realize it’s not about anything so sophisticated. It’s about the N.R.A., which announced its opposition days before the cloture vote last December. It was only the second time in the organization’s history that it had opposed a nomination at the non-Supreme Court level. . .

So that’s my N.R.A. story. The question is what anyone can do about it. . .

How to get a handle on the gun problem is not my point. Rather, I want to offer the judicial nomination story as a canary in the mine, a warning about the depths to which the power of the gun lobby has brought the political system.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/26/the-n-r-a-at-the-bench/?hp

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