When Sandra Day O'Connor announced her intention to retire from the Supreme Court, Washingtonians gathered with one thought: The circus has come to town.
Reporters quickly assured viewers this "titanic battle" that is guaranteed to be knock-down, drag-out, wall-to-wall ugly. They didn't wonder: Why does this always happen with Republican nominations, but not Democratic ones? In 1993, President Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was calmly approved by a vote of 96 to 3. In 1994, Clinton nominated Stephen Breyer, who was confirmed by a vote of 87 to 9. By contrast, all hell broke loose with Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, with 58 senators against the one, and 48 votes against the other. The same pattern occurs with attorney general nominees: 42 votes against John Ashcroft, 36 against Alberto Gonzales, and zero against Janet Reno. Why?
It's simple. Republicans have been willing to grant Democratic presidents their right to select nominees of their choice, while Democrats have used an explicitly ideological standard since the 1987 trashing of Robert Bork: If you're conservative, you're disqualified -- period.
These Democrats are emboldened because on high-profile, non-electoral fights like this, liberal bias flies fast and furious in the newsrooms. A classic example can be found in the work product of staunchly liberal National Public Radio reporter Nina Totenberg, who has tried to ruin two conservative Supreme Court bids.
In 1987, she took a bitter ex-girlfriend's diary and ruined Douglas Ginsburg's nomination by forcing him to admit marijuana use at Harvard in the 1960s and 1970s, after which a parade of politicians from Gingrich to Gore admitted the same, with no career damage. (The Didn't Inhale President came later.) In 1991, Totenberg took a bitter former employee (and according to some, wanna-be girlfriend) named Anita Hill and forced a new set of hearings around Hill's unsubstantiated tales of sexual harassment by Thomas. But when Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick came forward with their (far more serious) charges against Bill Clinton, Totenberg's compassion was nowhere to be found.