Elena Kagan was confirmed Thursday as the 112th justice to serve on the Supreme Court bench, in a significant victory for the Obama administration and womens’ rights groups—and a significant defeat for the National Rifle Association.
Kagan was approved on a 63-37 vote, earning the support of fifty-six Democrats (all except Nebraska’s Ben Nelson), Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman and five Republicans who had already announced their support for her: Lindsey Graham, the South Carolinian who cast the sole GOP vote for Kagan on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Richard Lugar of Indiana, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.
The Senate made history with its choice. As People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan noted: “Thanks to today’s vote, the Supreme Court will have three female Justices for the first time in our nation’s history."
National Organization for Women president Terry O’Neill was similarly enthused. "NOW eagerly anticipates three brilliant women justices individually and collectively making their mark on a Supreme Court long dominated by men, while making decisions that greatly impact the lives of everyday people," said O’Neill. "This is more than a symbolic, inspiring achievement for women—it will be a genuine victory for every woman and girl who benefits from Elena Kagan’s years of service on the high court."
In addition to making history, however, the senators also sent a signal that was very much of the moment. And it had to do with their indepenence from a supposedly definitional special-interest group.
The NRA staked much of its reputation as a political powerhouse on an aggressive campaign to defeat Kagan, who earned the ire of the lobbying group after she expressed the view that several past rulings allowing for modest gun controls were "settled law."
But Senate voted, even members who had long been closely allied with the group rejected its counsel.
According to an analysis by Doug Pennington, a veteran watcher of Congressional voting on gun issues, nine senators with A ratings from the NRA voted to confirm Kagan: Montana Democrat Max Baucus, Alaskan Democrat Nick Begich, Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey, New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand; South Carolina Republican Graham, South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson, Pennsylvania Democrat Arlen Specter, Montana Democrat Jon Tester and Virginia Democrat Mark Warner.
In addition, a number of senators with records as staunch defenders of 2nd amendment rights, such as Vermont Independent Sanders, Maine Republican Collins and Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold were solid supporters of Kagan.
The Senate’s overwhelming vote on this nomination represents a second significant rejection of the NRA’s lobbying on High Court nominations in as many years, and a signal that Senate Democrats—and a number of Republicans—are willing to buck the group that likes to position itself as the thousand-pound gorilla of legislative lobbying in Washington.