You’d be forgiven if you can’t remember exactly where you were about a week before Christmas in 1975. I’m not sure where I was, for example, though I might have been reprising my role as the baby Jesus in our church’s nativity play.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) probably has an easier time remembering where he was on Dec. 17 of that year. He was on the floor of the U.S. Senate, casting the first of his to-date 15 votes to confirm or oppose a nominee to sit on the Supreme Court.
Leahy’s record is somewhat higher than the average for sitting senators. On average, current senators have voted on about three nominees to serve as Supreme Court justices. But he’s not all that exceptional: Three other senators have cast 14 votes for the court, including Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The three Republicans have cast 42 combined votes, only six times in opposition to nominees. Those nominees were Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, both nominated by former president Barack Obama. All three senators opposed both of Obama’s nominees.
Here. Let’s just cut to the chase and provide an overview of every vote cast by each sitting senator.
Some interesting cases to note:
- Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has voted in support of every nominee that she’s seen as a senator. Her cloture vote on Friday morning suggests that Brett M. Kavanaugh, the nominee facing a confirmation vote this weekend, probably won’t be her first vote in opposition.
- The only other senator to support every nominee he’s seen is Sen. Lindsey “Stinkball” Graham (R-S.C.). His support of Sotomayor and Kagan was a central argument he used to disparage Democratic opposition to Kavanaugh.
- Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), appointed to fill the seat left vacant by the death of former senator John McCain, is the only senator with a gap in his record. He wasn’t in the Senate last year for the vote on Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.
- He’s the only one if you exclude Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). Isakson was recuperating from back surgery during the Gorsuch vote. Since McConnell had the votes, the confirmation went forward without the Georgia senator.
- Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) is the only senator to have cast votes as a member of both parties. He became a Republican after the wave election of 1994.
Notice that since the confirmation of John G. Roberts Jr. to serve as chief justice, most of the votes have been on partisan lines. (The vertical lines are colored in accordance with the party of the president at the time.) There are some exceptions, including several Democrats who backed Gorsuch (letting Isakson stay in bed, no doubt to his relief).
That pattern is upheld by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). But, unlike Collins, she may be prepared to buck tradition. She opposed the cloture motion on Kavanaugh, suggesting that she plans to oppose his confirmation. She may be offset by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who bucked his party and backed Gorsuch. He seems likely to buck his party again on Kavanaugh.
Leahy, the Senate stalwart, promises to cast vote No. 16 in predictable (or, if you prefer, reliable) fashion.