Former Indiana Sen. Richard G. Lugar told members of the federal judiciary Monday that his support of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court appointees, opposed by many in his party, may have carried the greatest political cost of any decisions during his 36 years in the Senate.
Lugar said his support of justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were most frequently mentioned by the roughly 250,000 voters his campaign staff personally talked with in phone conversations during the 2012 Republican primary campaign. Lugar was unseated by tea party favorite Richard Mourdock, who lost the general election to Democrat Joe Donnelly.
Lugar said voters were not persuaded by the argument that obstructing nominees on a political basis would raise obstacles for the nominees of future Republican presidents. Voters said they understood such a view, but it was “trumped by their desire to oppose the president,” Lugar told the 7th Circuit Bar Association and Judicial Conference Monday in Indianapolis.
Senators of opposing parties now vote against confirmation of federal judges from half to four-fifths of the time, Lugar said. “It’s no longer good politics” to approach confirmation votes from a non-political point of view, he said. Bucking party lines on confirmation votes “carries extreme political risks, and almost no political benefit” for senators, he said, noting he found Sotomayor and Kagan to have strong qualifications, high moral character, and the respect of the legal community.
“Outside political forces on both sides” have “monetized” opposition in an effort to appeal to political bases, he said. Cable news and partisan websites, for instance, allow activists to spread “a strident viewpoint to vast numbers.” Lugar suggested that view over time could have a corrosive effect on the political independence of the federal judiciary.
Lugar contrasted the heated battles over Supreme Court nominations to his early days in the Senate, when confirmations typically sailed through, sometimes without hearings or with nominal questioning from the Judiciary Committee. He said there are signs, though, that a foundation still exists to rebuild a nonpartisan confirmation process.
Speaking at the 7th Circuit Conference’s annual luncheon, Lugar used the occasion to also promote the post-legislative work he’s hoping to carry out through the Lugar Center in Washington, D.C., and his work with the University of Indianapolis, Indiana University and Georgetown University.
The Lugar Center, founded last month, aims to promote hallmarks of his legacy as a lawmaker: nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, global food security and ensuring the effectiveness of international aid. Lugar, 81, was recently knighted as a Knight Commander of the British Empire for his work reducing weapons of mass destruction.
At the outset of his speech, Lugar paid tribute to former Indiana Gov. Otis Bowen, who died Saturday at age 95, and who Lugar called “a very good friend.”
“He meant so much to all of us in public life, and in private life,” Lugar said.