Author Allen Drury wrote his famous allegorical novel “Advise and Consent” in 1959. It was one of the most successful and widely read books ever written about Washington and U.S. Senate politics. It remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 102 weeks and was later made into a Broadway play and then a movie.
The book surrounds the confirmation hearings of a liberal nominee for Secretary of State in the 1950’s. The title is based on Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives the Senate the responsibility to advise the President on their nominee and the authority to consent to and approve or reject those nominees.
As we are preparing to witness the Senate hearings that will exercise this constitutional power to advise and consent on the President’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, it continues to amaze me how brilliant and insightful our founding fathers, who wrote the constitution, were when they drafted our basic treatise of laws. This document has weathered 233 years of politics and remains as resilient and relevant as ever.
Over the centuries the intent of the advise and consent article has been interpreted to mean that the President has the right to choose his nominee and the Senate should simply determine whether the nominee is qualified. However, in recent decades the partisan divide in Washington has become so pronounced that both parties have made the confirmation hearings more about philosophy and party than qualifications.
There is a good possibility that two more liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens, will retire during Obama’s tenure. He will replace them with liberals.
Obama is a brilliant and pragmatic politician. He chose the perfect candidate for the Court politically in Sotomayor. She is a Hispanic female. The Hispanic population is growing at an unprecedented pace in this country. It is the most pivotal and important voting block in the country. It is critical in large swing states.
Not only was Sotomayor the perfect choice politically for Obama and the Democrats, she is also qualified and will be confirmed. The Senate has 60 Democrats all of whom will vote for confirmation. Therefore, she will be confirmed even if all 40 Republicans vote against her, which is unlikely.
The only strike against her is the following statement she made during a speech, “I hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” I contend that if a white male made that remark in reverse he would have been barred from confirmation.
Ironically, our own Jeff Sessions was denied a seat on the federal bench 20 years ago for supposedly making racist remarks. Sessions is the quintessential, lifelong, true blue, reactionary Republican. He cut his political teeth campaigning for Barry Goldwater in his youth. He has never deviated from the Republicans or the conservative cause. He is a true conservative. He is considered one of the five most conservative members of the U.S. Senate. He has always been considered to be to the right of Attila the Hun.
Sessions was the U.S. Attorney in Mobile in the 1980s. He was a loyal disciple of Ronald Reagan. Reagan nominated Sessions for an open federal judgeship in Mobile. However, the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected his nomination because he was too conservative and painted him as a racist.
Sessions took the rejection by the liberal Senate committee in stride. He moved on to be elected Attorney General of Alabama and then was elected as our junior U.S. Senator in 1996. He was immediately given a seat on the Judiciary Committee by the Republican leadership. He took his seat beside liberals, like Ted Kennedy, who had castigated him as a racist and rejected him 10 years earlier.
Talk about an ironic twist of fate. There is an old saying in politics, “that what goes around comes around.” I have watched this adage play out over and over again. It will play out again when Senator Jeff Sessions leads the Republicans in the advise and consent of the Sotomayor confirmation hearings.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 75 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted at www.steveflowers.us.