August 26th, 2009
03:40 PM ET

Kennedy and the Supreme Court

Program Note: Tune in tonight for more from Jeffrey Toobin on Sen. Kennedy's influence on the Supreme Court. AC360° 10 p.m. ET.

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Jeffrey Toobin | Bio
CNN Senior Legal Analyst
New Yorker Columnist

The vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor last month was sixty-eight to thirty-one—but the one senator who was missing may have had more influence over the Supreme Court than any in history. Edward M. Kennedy won election in 1962, voted on every nominee from Abe Fortas in 1965 to Samuel A. Alito, Jr., in 2005, and to an unprecedented extent shaped the composition of the Court itself.

Early in his tenure, in 1969 and 1970, Kennedy helped lead the fight to defeat two of President Nixon’s nominees, Clement Haynsworth and Harrold Carswell, both of whom lost by narrow margins. In 1971, Kennedy was one of only twenty-six senators to oppose the nomination of William H. Rehnquist as an associate justice. (Kennedy voted against Rehnquist for Chief Justice, too, in 1986).

Still, the summit of Kennedy’s influence on the Court—and perhaps his career as a senator—was his role in the fight over Robert H. Bork’s nomination in 1987. Kennedy was fifty-five at the time, his dreams of the Presidency having been put away for good nearly a decade earlier. At the time, Kennedy had little to gain politically by leading the opposition to Bork, but he did it nonetheless, and he did it with a passion that has defined Supreme Court fights ever since.

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Filed under: Jeffrey Toobin • Sen. Ted Kennedy
soundoff (One Response)
  1. Annie Kate

    I didn't realize Kennedy's influence on the Supreme Court nominations. I'm glad he was so instrumental in being sure the nation got good justices instead of just ones appointed for political payback.

    August 26, 2009 at 2:22 pm |