ONE SENATOR who in 1967 voted against Thurgood Marshall, the first black ever nominated to the Supreme Court, also voted "no" on Clarence Thomas, the second. Can you guess who?
Here's a hint: KKK.
Right, Sen. Robert Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who joined the Klan when he entered politics in the 1940s. (He later quit.)
Eight senators who voted on Thomas also voted on Marshall. Only one other was consistent. Oregon Republican Mark Hatfield voted "aye" both times. Senators Strom Thurmond and Ernest Hollings of South Carolina voted "no" in 1967, "aye" in 1991. Senators Quentin Burdick of North Dakota, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island voted "aye" then, "no"
What a difference 24 years make. Only two Southern Democrats voted for Marshall -- William Fulbright of Arkansas and William Spong of Virginia. Ten voted against. So did a Southern Republican (Thurmond). Nine Southerners ducked. So it was 11-2 "no." In 1991, Southerners voted "aye" 14-8. They saved Thomas. In Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana and Mississippi, the only states in which at least one-quarter of the voting population is black, the vote was 8-0 for Thomas.
Two-thirds of the Southern senators and 60 percent of the Westerners voted for him. But only half the Midwesterners and less than a third of the Easterners.
In unusual circumstances a vote on a Supreme Court nomination can make a difference in a Senate race. In 1969 and 1970, Maryland Democratic Sen. Joseph Tydings voted against two Supreme Court nominees, Clement Haynsworth Jr. and G. Harrold Carswell. He helped lead the fight against them in the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor. Both were defeated.
In 1970, Tydings was defeated in his re-election bid. His opponent, Rep. J. Glenn Beall Jr., defeated Tydings on a range of issues -- Tydings had been tarred by an apparent conflict of interest scandal; he led the fight for gun control laws, outraging the National Rifle Association; he supported busing for desegregation; and he was widely criticized for "going Washington," socializing with Teddy Kennedy, etc. Beall also attacked Tydings for his court votes. That may have been a contributing factor in the outcome. Not a major one, but in a close election -- Beall won by 24,000 votes out of 945,000 cast -- every issue can be said to make the difference.
Another senator who voted against both nominees was defeated, and his defeat is an interesting footnote to history. Texas liberal Democrat Ralph Yarborough was regarded as a probable loser to the conservative Republican challenger, but in small part because of his Senate votes on the court nominees, he was upset in the primary by a conservative Democrat who then crushed the Republican and, some thought, cut short that man's promising career. The Democrat was Lloyd Bentsen. The Republican was George Bush.