There was never the least bit of doubt about Elena Kagan's prospects in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Kagan, the solicitor general, is President Obama's choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. With a 12-7 Democratic majority on the Senate panel — and with all 12 Democrats saying they will vote for her — this morning's session was seen as a formality.
But all eyes were on South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the only Republican on the committee to vote for Sonia Sotomayor last year.
And, making the same arguments as he did with Sotomayor, Graham said he will vote to confirm Kagan.
"There are plenty of reasons for conservatives to vote no," Graham said, "But there are plenty to vote yes as well." Kagan, Graham said, is smart, funny, has an impressive background, and is a liberal — "that caught me by surprise," he slyly said. And yes, "I would have picked somebody different," he noted. But as he said during the Sotomayor hearings, he repeated that "elections have consequences" and "elections have meaning." Is the person qualified, he asked? Does she have good character, is she more of a judge than a politician? Well, she passed all those tests, Graham stated. "She will serve this nation honorably," he concluded, saying he will vote in favor of her nomination.
The other six Republicans on the panel — ranking member Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Charles Grassley (Iowa), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) — said they would vote no.
Hatch, Kyl and Coburn were among the seven Republicans who voted to confirm Kagan as solicitor general in March 2009, along with Dick Lugar (Ind.), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine) and Judd Gregg (N.H.).
Graham did not vote on that nomination.
Graham has been facing conservative anger back home in South Carolina — though he easily won re-election in 2008 — and while 2014 is a long way away, his vote could be one reason to provoke a serious primary challenge. Sen. Jim DeMint, his fellow Palmetto State Republican, is a certain no vote on Kagan, and Nikki Haley, the state's GOP gubernatorial nominee, not only also opposes the nomination but has in the past called for Graham's censure.
He's "still a maverick," said the Fox News blog "Speaker's Lobby," but his vote for Kagan "no doubt fanned the flames of conservative resentment already running high against him."
It's not a resentment to be dismissed in South Carolina. Just ask Bob Inglis.
UPDATE: The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Kagan nomination by a vote of 13-6.