Justice Kagan, I presume


Elena Kagan‘s nomination to the Supreme Court is only hours old, but if her confirmation process goes as smoothly as Sonia Sotomayor’s last year, she’ll have plenty of senators backing her. A preliminary analysis of how the Senate’s current members voted on Supreme Court nominations dating back to the 1980s suggests that there are 60 firm votes to confirm Kagan — just enough to override a Republican filibuster effort. Several other senators could also back her, giving President Obama more than enough votes for his second court nominee. (Check my work: Spreadsheet that’s the basis for my argument is at bottom.)

The 60 likely Senate votes for Kagan, no surprise, are mainly comprised of Democrats, who hold a 57 to 41 majority (59 if two independents who caucus with Democrats are included). Still, several moderate Democrats facing tough reelection fights aren’t among them, including Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.

Another wild card is Arlen Specter, the longtime Republican who switched parties last year. He voted against Kagan’s nomination before defecting from the Republicans, so it’s anyone’s guess how he will vote on her nomination to the Supreme Court. Specter’s decision may well depend on how he fares in the May 18 Democratic primary in his home state of Pennyslvania, where he faces a challenge from the left.

Even as these Democrats may ultimately vote against Kagan, a handful of Republicans are just as likely to vote for her. These include the two senators from Maine — Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who have a long history of breaking ranks to support Democrats on key votes. Between the two of them, Snowe and Collins each voted to confirm Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justices Alito and Sotomayor.The group of potential Republican votes for Kagan also includes Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who has voted to confirm every nominee since Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993. George Voinovich of Ohio and Lama Alexander of Tennessee are other possible votes to confirm, as both men supported Roberts, Alito and Sotomayor.

Indiana’s Richard Lugar could be another yes vote. He supported the nomination of every single justice currently sitting on the Supreme Court with one exception — his 1994 vote against Stephen Breyer. That vote was likely influenced by Lugar’s plans to run for the GOP presidential nomination in 1996. He supported Sonia Sotomayor last year, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993.

Another possible Senate vote for Kagan is Kit Bond, the longtime senator from Missouri. Bond voted to confirm every single current member of the high court, suggesting his inclination is to defer to presidents on the highest level of judicial appointments. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, meanwhile, voted to confirm Sotomayor last year but was not present to vote for or against Kagan’s nomination to be Solicitor General. He would be considered a likely vote for Kagan if weren’t for the fact that a growing number of South Carolina Republicans are voicing displeasure with Graham’s reputation for working closely with moderates in both parties.

Two complete unknowns are the Senate’s newest members — Scott Brown of Massachusetts and George LeMieux of Florida.?? Brown supported President Obama on key economic legislation earlier this year, but he won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat by running an insurgent campaign aimed at derailing much of the Democratic agenda. LeMieux got his seat after incumbent Mel Martinez resigned last September. Gov. Charlie Crist made the appointment, the same man who recently left the Republican Party to run as an independent for the same Senate seat LeMieux holds. Is LeMieux loyal to Crist and how, if at all, would that influence a vote for or against Kagan?

Take all the above with a huge grain of salt. Hearings on Kagan’s background won’t begin for weeks, and election-year pressures could drive both parties to score as many political points as possible — a fight that could easily derail Kagan’s nomination.

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