When it comes to the most important qualities we look for in a senator—good ideas, leadership ability, intelligence, articulateness, strong principles, a compelling vision for the future, and the like—Christine O'Donnell stood out as the better choice for Delaware voters during last night’s debate. But the MSM seems to be focusing, instead, on a somewhat less important quality where O'Donnell’s opponent, Chris Coons, might have the edge after being a lawyer for eighteen years. I’m talking, of course, about the ability to name Supreme Court decisions off the top of your head.
O'Donnell struggled when asked which Supreme Court decisions she dislikes, but Coons didn’t do any better. When asked the question, Coons could only come up with the same case, Citizens United, that a questioner had asked him about a few minutes earlier (Wolf Blitzer failed to push the issue with Coons, unlike with O'Donnell). Moreover, Coons’s answer consisted of nothing more than the usual Democratic talking point—corporations shouldn’t have free speech rights—that even my dog knows by heart by now.
While we learned nothing from Coons’s answer to that question, another of his remarks about the courts was more telling:
[M]aking sure that we've got on the record Miss O’Donnell’s views on things like prayer, abortion, evolution, is important. These aren't just random statements on some late-night TV show. These are relevant to her service in the United States Senate, what sort of judges she would confirm.
What’s interesting here is the way Coons projects his liberal, litmus test-based approach to the judicial confirmation process on O'Donnell. Liberal senators make no bones about demanding that judicial nominees share their views on abortion, public prayer, and a host of other social issues. But that’s not what conservatives like O'Donnell are looking for in judges. Conservative senators focus on whether judicial nominees are willing to interpret the Constitution as umpires rather than as policymakers and philosopher kings, making a senator’s views on particular social issues irrelevant to the confirmation process.