Democratic members of the US Senate complained today that Senator Scott Brown made a revealing comment about his commitment to women’s rights when the Massachusetts Republican named conservative Antonin Scalia first on his list of model Supreme Court justices.
Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Globe that he “fell straight out of my chair” when he heard the statement during Monday’s debate between Brown and his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren.
Leahy said he was flummoxed because Brown talks about his bipartisan record but voted against a homestate nominee, Elena Kagan, to join the high court, and now lists Scalia as a model even though he opposes the Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision.
Scalia believes abortion rights are not guaranteed by the Constitution.
Leahy said Brown’s comment is consequential because the Senate may get the chance to vote on two or three court nominees during the next president’s term.
“I normally don’t make these kinds of calls, but as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I’m very concerned about the appointments to the Supreme Court,” Leahy said.
While Leahy - along with Senator John Kerry and the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy - joined in the unanimous vote to confirm Scalia in 1986, “I think had any of these things been known at the time, he never would have been confirmed – but we know it now.”
Senator Patty Murray of Washington, chairwoman of the committee charged with electing Democrats to the Senate, and Senator Barbara Boxer of California, also complained about the choice during a broader conference with state and national political reporters.
“In a moment that is not scripted, that he has not thought about, his values come out,” said Murray.
Boxer added: “Scott Brown just aligned himself with the intellectual leader of the far right of the Supreme Court.”
During the debate, moderator David Gregory asked Brown for his idea of a model justice.
Brown initially replied, “That’s a great question,” then paused before picking Scalia.
As some in the audience began to boo, Brown added the names of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a common swing voter; Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., another conservative; and the more liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
When Gregory pressed Brown to name one, the senator said: “Listen, I don’t need to pick one. We have plenty of justices up there, and I’m proud of the ones we have.”
During a visit to Worcester today, the senator said he was not commenting on Scalia or the others’ political philosophies but their legal minds and “scholarly ability.”
Brown spokesman John Donnelly said of the Democratic critics: “Scott Brown mentioned four justices he admires who represent the entire political spectrum.”
Meanwhile, Brown announced the endorsement of Senator Richard Lugar, unsurprising in that he is a fellow Republican but noteworthy because Warren named the Indianian during the debate as the type of Republican with whom she could work should she reach the Senate.
The comment caused her to backpedal after Warren was reminded that Lugar was leaving the chamber in January after being defeated in his party primary earlier this year.
“My friend, Scott Brown, since becoming a US senator, has worked hard to reach across the aisle,” Lugar said, noting Brown’s support for the New START Treaty favored by President Obama. “We need Senators like Scott Brown in the US Senate, and I wholeheartedly endorse him.”Glen Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.