08/09/2006 06:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Lieberman: A Primary Reason

There is clearly some frisson in the air when a sitting three term senator gets defeated in his own state primary - and Joe Lieberman is not just any veteran senator. But for a politically charged and much criticized Supreme Court decision, Joe Lieberman would likely be sitting in the Vice President's chair right now.

Many factors contributed to Joe Lieberman's loss. One little noticed but highly significant issue concerned Lieberman's role in confirming President Bush's judicial nominations. Newspaper articles leading up to the election indicated that Connecticut Democrats were turned off by his support for Bush's effort to pack the courts with judges hostile to laws protecting public health and safety, civil rights, the environment and the right to choose.

Additionally, you could say that as a leader of the self-styled Gang of 14, Joe Lieberman helped put the Senate judicial filibuster into cold storage. Before the Gang came together in May 2005, Senate
Democrats had successfully filibustered some of Bush's most extreme nominees. The Gang opened the floodgates with its pledge to filibuster only nominees who met the undefined test of "extraordinary circumstances." The result was no filibusters at all and nearly everyone got through including two Supreme Court picks, both of whom turned out to be just what Bush promised - "in the mold of Scalia and Thomas."

Lieberman's defeat is reminiscent of another Democratic Senator who lost his primary when he voted in support of an extreme judicial nominee. In 1992, Illinois voters ousted Senator Alan Dixon, whose earlier vote to put Clarence Thomas on the bench was a major issue for the voters and the number one reason his opponent, Carol Moseley Braun, decided to challenge him.

If there is a lesson in this, it is Democrats rarely take into account how voters will react to the way they vote on extremist judges. They generally believe they have nothing to lose when they vote in favor of nominees, even the most extreme ones. Those same Democrats would do well to revisit their conventional wisdom and keep in mind that voters do care about the independent judiciary and the Supreme Court.