Wednesday afternoon may have been a first for the White House: Senate Republicans got one of President Obama’s judicial nominees confirmed when more than half of the Democrats voted “no.”

Every GOP senator voted for Edward Smith, Obama’s pick to fill a years-long-vacant seat on a Pennsylvania federal court bench, while 31 Democrats opposed him.

The leading theory for why Democrats bucked Obama dates back to comments Smith made nearly 20 years ago when he ran as a Republican for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 15th district. Then a lawyer, Smith was vocally anti-abortion and favored ending entitlement programs.

“We have created through these great social programs a device to create poverty on an unprecedented scale,” Smith said, according to an article in the Morning Call from 1996.

Smith, a county judge, was selected by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) for the U.S. District Court post, and had the blessing of Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.). Obama made the nomination official in December. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement: “This is not a nominee I would have recommended to the President for nomination …” but he supported him on the floor because he had the backing of both of his home state senators.

With the current drama over nominations, judge appointments have slowed to a crawl. Fighting over judicial nominations reached a fever pitch in November when Democrats employed a procedural rule change that helped them overcome GOP filibusters of Obama nominees.

Which made Wednesday’s vote all the more historic.