Selling SCOTUS Nominee Sonia Sotomayor The week's political news includes the New Jersey governor's race and Sen. Roland Burris' (D-IL) newly released caught-on-tape promise to Rod Blagojevich. Also, the campaigns for and against Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court are underway.
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Selling SCOTUS Nominee Sonia Sotomayor

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Selling SCOTUS Nominee Sonia Sotomayor

Selling SCOTUS Nominee Sonia Sotomayor

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The president's Supreme nominee, the speaker's trip to China, Senator Burris caught on tape, and the governor's race in New Jersey gets ugly. It's Wednesday, and time to nominate our own Political Junkie.

Senator GARY HART (Democrat, Colorado): Here you go again.

Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.

President RICHARD NIXON: You won't have Nixon to kick around any more.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

Governor HOWARD DEAN (Democrat, Vermont): Ahhhhhhhhhh!

CONAN: Every week, Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, joins us to talk politics and a little trivia.

Congress is out, but there's plenty to talk about. Fresh transcripts show that now-Senator Roland Burris promise to personally do something for then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and mentioned, you know, I'd really like that Senate seat. The Senate majority leader, the senior senator from Connecticut, and New Jersey's governor all face re-election challenges. And before she dons the long black robe, President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court faces a high stakes game of jeopardy with the media and the U.S. Senate. We'll hear inside tips for the nominee from a former White House chief of staff.

But as always, we begin with a trivia question. Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A.

Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal.

Well, you mentioned early in the show that President Obama's in Las Vegas. He's campaigned not only for Sonia Sotomayor but also for Harry Reid, the Senator majority leader who's in a tough battle for re-election against a still-unknown Republican opponent next year.

So anyway, the question is: Given the Harry Reid's situation, who was the last Senate majority leader to be defeated in his bid for re-election?

CONAN: So if you think you know the answer to the trivia question, the last Senate majority leader to be defeated for re-election, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us: The first to weigh in with the correct answer, of course, wins a fabulous no prize T-shirt.

RUDIN: Incredible.

CONAN: Incredible shirt.

RUDIN: Yeah.

CONAN: Just as the nicest shirt ever.

Anyway, getting back to, well, Judge Sotomayor, who hopes to be Justice Sotomayor, we've heard, well, universal praise, I think, from Democrats. I guess the question was whether Republicans would stage a filibuster to protest her to try to block the nomination.

Today, Jeff Sessions, who's the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, well, he didn't sense that there's a great feeling for a filibuster, but he did say she does have problems.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): We need to inquire into that and give her a fair opportunity to explain it. But on its face, that's very troubling. A judge must be - must submit themselves to the law and be faithful to the law and to serve under the law. They are not above the law.

CONAN: And Jeff Sessions will, of course, play a role, but Democrats have a big majority on the Judiciary Committee.

RUDIN: They do. But even if you go back a few years, when President Bush, then-President Bush nominated Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, the Republicans did not have a big majority and Democrats still tried to push through a filibuster, backed by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and John Kerry and Ted Kennedy and all those guys. But ultimately that failed, by 75 hits 25 votes.

So it's very hard to muster up enough votes to stop the proceedings. Plus the fact that even if the Democrats don't have 60 - we're still waiting for that Minnesota Senate seat. We haven't mentioned that in a while. But they still have 59 seats, including Arlen Specter. They still have seven Republicans who voted for Sotomayor back in 1998 when she was elevated to the Second Court, the Circuit Court of Appeals.

CONAN: In a long drawn out and controversial nomination.

RUDIN: That's right. But Dick Lugar, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Thad Cochran, Judd Gregg, Bob Bennett of Utah, and Orrin Hatch of Utah, all supported Sotomayor in '98. That doesn't mean they're going to vote for her for Supreme Court justice. But there are some Republicans - certainly the two women from Maine seem to be inclined to go along with this nomination, at least.

CONAN: And some are saying, look, in terms of her personal story and in terms of her ethnicity, the first Latina to be nominated to the Supreme Court, it's going to be difficult for Republicans to stand in her way.

RUDIN: It is. It's hard to stand up to any kind of a good story. Anybody born in the Bronx, I think, deserves to be on the Supreme Court.

CONAN: Of course.

RUDIN: By the way, I was born in the…

CONAN: I just went to high school there.

RUDIN: But also, I mean, she has a great story of family, her - you know, and the fact that she rose through Princeton, through Yale, and obviously got kudos from everybody she worked with, was nominated by President Bush, the first President Bush in '92, elevated by President Clinton in '98. So she's there. But there's also almost a dare by the White House, saying, I dare you to vote against a Latina and - well, the first Hispanic woman on the court. So of course, if the Republicans are trying to make inroads with women, with Latinos, do you dare vote against - that's almost what Chuck Schumer dared the Republicans to do. They oppose this nomination at their own peril, he said yesterday.

CONAN: And of course one of the states where this has been playing an enormous role is - well, out in the Mountain West, in Nevada, where Hispanics are a more and more important part of the constituency. We mentioned Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, facing some difficulties there, politically. And last night Senator - excuse me - President Obama was there to help him with a fundraiser, that's where he was talking about Judge Sotomayor. He's got another fundraiser tonight in Los Angeles. But this is what he had to say last night when talking about the embattled Harry Reid.

President BARACK OBAMA: The last few years, Harry has done an extraordinary job as the leader of the U.S. Senate. And that's not easy, by the way. One of the last majority leaders wrote a book, titled it "Herding (unintelligible)." "Herding Cats." And that's what dealing with the Senate is all about.

CONAN: I think it was actually "Herding Cats."

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Well, you know, actually, speaking of herding, Harry Reid has never been popular in Nevada. He is obviously, you know, well-respected by many of his colleagues in Washington. But the numbers from the last poll I saw in Nevada says that more people, nearly 50 percent, said they would not vote for him for another term. And of course you have to beat somebody with somebody. And so far the Republicans don't have a good candidate, or a candidate, yet to oppose Harry Reid. But he is in trouble back home.

Other people who are also interesting to watch, Jon Kyl, John McCain, Republicans in Arizona both of whom voted against Sotomayor in '98. With a big Hispanic presence in Arizona, that's something to watch as well.

CONAN: Jon Kyl has been the most unspoken about perhaps staging a filibuster to oppose the nominee to the United States Supreme Court. Harry Reid in some political difficulties, also the senior senator from the state of Connecticut in some political difficulties.

RUDIN: Well, there's a new poll - I mean, he has been in trouble. There's a bunch of reasons why he's in trouble. Brian Naylor of NPR did a very nice story the other day on his - Chris Dodd's woes, first elected in 1980. But everything from protecting AIG executive bonuses to an alleged sweetheart deal he got with Countrywide Financial, to this apparent - it's a villa he owns in Ireland, to some bad feelings about moving his family to Iowa…

CONAN: For when he's running for president.

RUDIN: Running for president. So right now he - the last Quinnipiac poll shows that Chris Dodd has maybe four - is trailing his Republican opponent Rob Simmons, the former congressman, but that gap has narrowed over the last couple of months. Still, that election is a year away, and plenty of time, I suspect, for Dodd to come back. I think Harry Reid is in more trouble, actually, than Chris Dodd at this point.

CONAN: Well, let's move on. We've got some people who think they know the answer to our trivia question. Again, the last Senate majority leader to be defeated for re-election, 800-989-8255. Email us:

Bill is on the line from New Britain in Connecticut.

BILL (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi. Nice to have a listener in Hardware City. Go ahead.

BILL: Oh, thank you. Well, I'm thinking about this. And I think I have it totally wrong, because I was thinking Tom Daschle. He wasn't majority leader. I guess he was minority at that time, right?

CONAN: He had been majority leader at one time. But at the time he was defeated, Ken?

RUDIN: And when he was defeated by John Thune, he was minority leader. So the -actually, the caller knew the answer before we gave it, but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: So he's not correct, but he's correct in his assumption.

BILL: (Unintelligible)

RUDIN: Exactly.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much.

Let's see if we can go next to Mark. And Mark's calling from Baltimore.

MARK (Caller): Yeah. I believe it's whoever Barry Goldwater beat in '52. I think Noland(ph), maybe.

RUDIN: Well, your answer - it's not Noland. But you are right with this answer. The guy that Barry Goldwater defeated in 1952 was Ernest McFarland.

MARK: McFarland.

RUDIN: And McFarland was the last Senate majority leader to be defeated. So none has been defeated since '52. Harry Reid, if he loses, next year would be the first.

CONAN: Well, we have the correct answer here from J.T. via email. So I guess we've got a split decision. He's got Ernest McFarland. Did he get the first name right?

RUDIN: Well, Ernest McFarland is the guy, but the caller, of course, did know it was the guy that Goldwater defeated.

CONAN: Well, we asked for the name. I'm not trying to give away - all right. Mark, you get a t-shirt.

MARK: All right.

CONAN: All right. Mark, we're going to put you on hold. And J.T., you get a t-shirt too for getting the answer right.

RUDIN: Wait. Do I get a t-shirt because I knew the answer?

CONAN: No, you don't get a t-shirt.

RUDIN: Okay.

CONAN: All right. Let's see, there is a contest - Mark, I'm going to put you on hold. There's a contest underway for mayor of New York City.

RUDIN: Well, I don't know if there's a contest anymore.

CONAN: Well, that's the point. Mayor Bloomberg had the city charter changed so he could run for a third term, and, well, his opponents have been dropping like lies.

RUDIN: And he's already spent like $17 million and already we're still, you know, months away from any kind of a primary. It looks like he may run as an independent. The Republican seems to be in line with Michael Bloomberg, who was a Democrat all his life, became a Republican to run for mayor in 2001, re-elected as a mayor as a Republican in 2005, and now is an independent.

Anthony Weiner, the Congressman from Brooklyn who ran four years ago, would love to have run again and is planning to run again. He says, look, I can't compete with this money, so I'm not going to run. He had an op-ed in today's New York Times saying it's just ridiculous, it's a fruitless effort to try to beat somebody with all that money.

CONAN: Also, that he could do more good for his city serving in Congress…

RUDIN: Well, until - yeah, until he runs for mayor four years from now.

CONAN: There you go. Across the river in New Jersey, there's a contest underway for governor. And here's an ad by one of the rivals of the sitting governor, Jon Corzine. This is an ad for Chris Christie.

(Soundbite of ad)

Mr. CHRISTOPHER CHRISTIE (Former U.S. Attorney): Over the past decade, Jon Corzine spent over $100 million to get elected, attacking everyone in his path. We've seen it before. Spend enough on negative ads and maybe we'll ignore the governor's record of high taxes, tremendous debt and failed leadership. But we know better. First, we'll slash waste and reduce spending, then cut taxes across the board and grow our economy and make New Jersey affordable again. I'm Chris Christie. Want to change Trenton? Let's start by changing governors.

CONAN: And the governor then, of course, in his ads, well, has taken a bit of a high road.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Woman: He saw a crisis coming so he got to work, generating 40,000 jobs by investing now in roads, schools and clean energy; a $3,000 grant for every new job businesses create, freezing property taxes for seniors, cutting state spending by $5 billion. He created the nation's first economic recovery plan, so New Jersey will come back sooner and stronger. Governor Corzine, working every day to keep New Jersey working.

CONAN: Can we get a contest where Bloomberg runs against Corzine? They must be the two richest politicians in the country.

RUDIN: It's unbelievable. And one of them is in trouble and the other one isn't. Of course Chris Christie, the former U.S. attorney in New Jersey, does have a primary on June 2nd with the conservative Steve Lonegan, the former mayor in Bergen County. But ultimately, we think it's going to be Christie versus Corzine.

Corzine finds himself in trouble, which is unusual for a Democrat in a very blue state.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, stay with us. We're going to talk about the politics of the confirmation process in just a moment. When we come back, former White House chief of staff Ken Duberstein will join us to give his 10 commandments for a Supreme Court nominee. Stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. It's Wednesday, Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin is with us.

When President Obama introduced his nominee for the Supreme Court yesterday, many conservative groups were ready with a response. Sonia Sotomayor still faces Senate confirmation hearings and tough questions from Republicans. But she is already a target for conservative groups.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Woman: Here's Judge Sotomayor in her own published words. Our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions. I would 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. Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. So what is she saying?

Judge SONIA SOTOMAYOR (Supreme Court Nominee): Court of Appeals is where policy is made. And I know - and I know this is on tape, and I should never say that.

Unidentified Woman: Equal justice under law, or under attack? America deserves better.

CONAN: That's an online ad from a group called the Judicial Confirmation Network. The work now gets underway for Sotomayor beyond the scenes. The nominee will meet one on one with key senators in advance of her confirmation hearing later this summer.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York has been selected to introduce Sotomayor to other senators and shepherd her through the nomination process.

Our next guest knows from shepherding. Ken Duberstein helped guide then-nominee Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter and Clarence Thomas when they were nominated to the High Court. He also served as President Reagan's chief of staff. He's written an article for The Daily Beast, "My Inside Tips for Sonia," and joins us now from his office here in Washington, D.C. And thanks for taking the time to be with us today.

Mr. KEN DUBERSTEIN (Former Chief of Staff to President Reagan): Neal, my pleasure to be with you.

CONAN: And of course we want to hear from listeners too. What game-changing moments have you seen during previous Supreme Court confirmation processes? Give us call, 800-989-8255. You can also drop us an email. The address is

And Ken Duberstein, right off the bat, you write that, quote, "Unless she is found to be an ax-murderer or a secret Red Sox fan, Sotomayor will very likely be confirmed." Let's get that set up right from the start.

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: I think the roll-out by President Obama has been absolutely impeccable. She seems like a natural. Obviously the Senate is going to look at her record quite carefully, as they should.

But absent, as I wrote, being an ax-murderer or a Red Sox fan living in the shadow of the Yankee Stadium, I think she is going to be on the bench by the first Monday in October.

CONAN: If she also follows your 10 commandments for the confirmation process and you begin by saying something, well, that she's already started to do, and that is tell her personal story.

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: Look, it is absolutely compelling that she grew up poor in the South Bronx in New York City. It is similar to what we did with Clarence Thomas, growing up in Pin Point, Georgia, without indoor plumbing on the wrong side of the tracks. Or Bob Gates, not a Supreme Court nominee, but when he was up for CIA director and he was known as a faceless bureaucrat, and he painted himself in his opening statement as somebody who arrived in Washington with all his belongings in the back seat of his Mustang convertible.

The American people like personal stories, stories of people who've come up from the bottom, people who have struggled during a lifetime and have made it big. That is what they're going to do, the personal story, the narrative of Judge Sotomayor. That is what I think sells to the American people.

CONAN: You also recommend that she begin her courtesy calls, the visit with the senators immediately, and then go on to say - practice, practice, practice. What do you mean by that?

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: Well, there's something inside every White House, every Supreme Court nomination called a murder board. It is a mock hearing where people throw questions at the nominee. These are not soft-ball questions. These are the hard-edged questions to anticipate what senators may do.

And sometimes people play different roles. I remember in the David Souter nomination in the mock hearing, we had somebody play Senator Kennedy, who at that time was a leading member of the Judiciary Committee. We had somebody play Joe Biden, who was chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

The harder the questions in a mock hearing, the easier the confirmation usually is.

CONAN: And you point out that Robert Bork, well, didn't think this was important.

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: Judge Bork, from all the people who've participated in a preparation, thought that mock hearings and murder boards were unnecessary. And yet he - I don't think he was truly prepared for the kind of hazing and razzing and in-depth questions and tough scrutiny that he received during the Judiciary Committee. Some of which could have been ameliorated during the murder board process.

CONAN: We're talking with former White House chief of staff Ken Duberstein about the 10 commandments of the confirmation process.

What moments have you noticed in past confirmations where candidates have either come off the rails or greased the wheels to confirmation? Give us a call, 800-989-8255; email,

And Raymond is on the line. Raymond calling from Waterford in Michigan.

RAYMOND (Caller): Hey. How is it going?

CONAN: All right.

RAYMOND: As I was telling the screener, the one that really sticks out with me is the Clarence Thomas fiasco. I could not believe that he actually made it through the confirmation hearings.

CONAN: Clarence Thomas, I think, had 75 votes lined up on his behalf. And then, well, Anita Hill made her charges. The hearings were reopened. Ken Duberstein?

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: Well, the White House count was 77 for Judge Thomas before the allegations by Anita Hill. Then you had those televised, nationally televised hearings that captured - captivated the country, where both of them told their sides of the story. And the Senate in its wisdom confirmed Clarence Thomas by a vote of 52-48. But there were several defining moments during that testimony from Clarence Thomas that really made the difference, that - where he eked out his victory.

CONAN: I think high-tech lynching may have been the line that people remember.

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: That is among the others, correct.


RUDIN: Ken, in your article, you talk about that - you're complaining that too many of these confirmation fights became political campaign attacks like - and you mentioned Bork, Thomas, Souter, Roberts and Alito. Now, all five of those guys are Republicans. Is it that the Democrats are better dealing with confirmation politics, or do the Republicans just nominate poorer candidates?

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: Well, I think it is just the nature of the confirmation hearings themselves now. And remember, even though Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg - most of the fireworks in the court have been from Republican -presidential Republican nominees over the last 20 years, but it is not who they appoint, is much more of the nature of the battle.

You know, years ago confirmation hearings for Supreme Court judges took a half-hour, took an hour. And now they are - have all the attributes of a political campaign.

RUDIN: Scalia was approved without a dissenting vote.

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: But there was an awful lot of - from the far left and the far right, an awful lot of it ads prior to that vote.

CONAN: Do you anticipate that kind of thing this time around?

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: Oh, I anticipate there being a lot of heat. But ultimately it looks to me like unless there is something out there that none of us know, she will be confirmed before the first Monday in October.

CONAN: Another of your commandments is to tell the truth, tell the truth, and to tell the truth. Evidence again - not a Supreme Court nominee, but Bernard Kerik, who was being - up for Homeland Security, director of Homeland Security, well, he's now facing charges, indicted yesterday on charges of lying to White House officials vetting him for that job.

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: Yeah. But also say remember that shoveling doesn't work because senators, based on their previous experience, can spot shoveling a mile away. So you got to be absolutely straight in your testimony and don't embellish.


RUDIN: Another question. Sotomayor, if confirmed, she will replace David Souter, who is kind of - part of the liberal bloc. If it were a conservative or a moderate conservative retiring, would there be more of a confirmation fight do you think?

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: If there was a change on the balance of the court, there would be much more of a holy war than I think there will be.

CONAN: Another point you make in your piece in The Daily Beast is basically from now on say nothing to the media.

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: The first words that Judge Sotomayor should utter publicly should be to the Senate Judiciary Committee in her opening statement. She will have all these courtesy calls of all these private meetings with senators. There will be photo ops, but she shouldn't answer any questions from the press, from the media, from anybody other than the United States Senate. But when the American people hear her voice next, it should be before the Senate Judiciary Committee. That is why it is practice and it's also historical.

CONAN: Now, let's get Bill on the line and Bill is with us from San Jose in California.

BILL (Caller): Yes. I was wondering if you think that she might encounter any resistance from Democrats given the fact that she has a record of undermining free speech and she might even be poised to undermine Roe vs. Wade.

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: You know, she has in her corner the best lobbyist in the world, who happens to be a very popular president called Barack Obama. I am sure that he will talk with whoever in the United States Senate, especially Democrats, that he needs to touch. So I would not worry much on the Democratic side of the aisle.

BILL: Do you think that might cost Barack Obama in terms of, you know, some political capital with Democrats?

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: I think he is going to be focusing a lot of his energy on the economy, on education, on health care and on the environment. And yet he will find time to make sure that from his side of the aisle this confirmation goes along smoothly.

CONAN: Well, Bill's question also raises some points. Judge Sotomayor is not the champion that many on the extreme left would have hoped for, someone they would argue that they need to balance Justice Scalia. And in a way does not that help her in the United States Senate?

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: I think it all spells a confirmation before the first Monday in October on both sides of the aisle.

CONAN: Bill, thanks very much for the call.

BILL: Sure.

CONAN: And Ken Duberstein, we know you've got an appointment, we appreciate your time today.

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: I hope that helps.

CONAN: Appreciate it.

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: And let's look forward to the hearings.

CONAN: We'll be there.

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: All right.

CONAN: Ken Duberstein, who served as the chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan and was involved in being the shepherd to a several Supreme Court nominees as they took their candidacies through the Senate Judiciary Committee and onto serve for the United States Supreme Court. He joined us today from his office here in Washington D.C. We're on with Ken Rudin. Our political junkie is with us every Wednesday here. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And of course I have to mention that Ken writes a blog that you can read every week at, well, now every day…

RUDIN: My god.

CONAN: By god, it's spreading - every day at And I wonder, as we look ahead to these Sotomayor hearings, there are a lot of code words that we're going to be hearing. Some of them we're hearing already that - well, radical liberal, but also that she - the word empathy has been used to attack her. That's a word that President Obama used when he outlined his qualifications for the court.

RUDIN: Well, conservatives are nervous that she may be, you know, or at least they expect or they fear that she could be the judge from the court, make the rulings from the court, interpret the laws from the court. There's a big difference between Republicans who have to face voters and certainly have to face, as Chuck Schumer said, the wrath of women and Hispanics if they vote against them, and conservative activists who want to make this an ideological fight, who want to make this us against them, to their benefit, obviously. But Republicans senators seem to be caught in that little bind, how far to go in opposing her.

CONAN: Jennifer is calling. Jennifer from St. Louis.

JENNIFER (Caller): Hi. Thank you very much for having me.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JENNIFER: I was wondering whether anybody has thought about, could Barack Obama have nominated Sotomayor because she is slightly more controversial but she is replacing a liberal justice so that he can save up somebody who is less colorful, less outspoken for when he has to replace a conservative justice?

CONAN: If he gets that opportunity, Ken.

JENNIFER: Exactly.

RUDIN: Well, I think - I think Jennifer's point is very, very important, in that if - if an Anthony Kennedy, I mean it seems like it's Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens, the ones - the justices who may be the next to leave. But if a conservative or moderate were to go, I would think that Obama would get somebody more centrist perhaps and less controversial, although I don't think Sotomayor is that controversial compared to who he could have picked, but somebody certainly less controversial and less of a Senate fight if the ideological make up of a court would be changed.

JENNIFER: Alright, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks Jennifer. And let's go next to Steve. And Steve with us from Canton, Michigan. Steve, are you there?

STEVE (Caller): Yeah. Hi.(

CONAN: You're on the air, go ahead.

STEVE: How's it going?

CONAN: All right.

STEVE: I was wondering what has changed in the last few years that these votes are kind of close now, you know? I was looking at the last votes in like the '70s and the '80s and they were all just total landslides. And we're talking about this being like a, you know, like a close vote. You know, it seems in the past it's not like a bipartisan issue when it comes to, you know, voting in a Supreme Court justice, and I was just wondering what's changed in the last few years. And I will take my comments off the air.

CONAN: Okay Steve, thank you.

RUDIN: Well, I guess the big thing was Bork hearings of '87 and a lot of it was Robert Bork's track record. I mean in the years since Bork, presidents have picked somebody without a paper trail, somebody you could almost get through without any controversy. In 19 - look, Antonin Scalia is one of the most conservative Supreme Court justice in the history of the court. And yet in 1986, when he was confirmed, there was not a single member of the Senate to vote against him, but '87, that changed with the Bork hearings. Then of course that changed with the John Tower confirmation hearings as Secretary of Defense in '89. And since then it's been more of an ideological battle.

Republicans also noticed that when President Clinton named Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer in '93 and '94, there was not the ideological battles that went on in the past. So they have to decide whether they want to re-fight the old, you know, us-versus-them battles, or pick and choose, you know, their openings.

CONAN: Well, you mentioned there were attempts, failed, but attempts to mount filibusters over the last couple of times around, but in the end both Sam Alito and Chief Justice Roberts were overwhelmingly approved.

RUDIN: True. But 42 senators voted against Sam Alito and that's pretty much more than the average, when I think Sandra Day O'Connor, zero, Anthony Kennedy I think zero opposition. It's become more of a political trial in the latter years.

CONAN: Well, obviously a subject that we will be revisiting in the weeks and months to come. The hearings are expected to be in July with - at least the White House hopes that there will be a vote in the United States Senate before the Congress goes on its August recess, its summer vacation, and thereby that a Justice Sotomayor would be in place in September to begin participating in the court. It may drag into September. We have yet to see that. Ken Rudin, as always, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor and our Political Junkie joins us here every Wednesday on TALK OF THE NATION

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