We were far from the only ones noting the surprising volume of GOP attacks on Justice Thurgood Marshall on Monday. Talking Points Memo counted the number of references to the illustrious Justice on the opening day of Kagan’s hearings:
In an example of how much the GOP focused on Marshall, his name came up 35 times. President Obama’s name was mentioned just 14 times today.
Harpers Magazine shared my confusion about what might have motivated Republican Senators to engage in these attacks:
So what made Marshall the image of an “activist judge”? Was it his role in Brown v. Board of Education, the decision that put an end to the lie of “separate but equal” education across the American South, forcing desegregation in public education? Or perhaps it was the fact that he won nearly all of his Supreme Court cases, most of them on behalf of the NAACP, and all of them testing the official refuges of bigotry and racism?
The attacks were led, predictably, by neoconfederate senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Republican ranking member and the Theodore Bilbo of his generation, who snarled that Kagan’s affection for her former boss “tells us much about the nominee”—a comment clearly intended as an insult. But so many other Republican senators joined in—Orrin Hatch, John Cornyn, and Jon Kyl, for instance—that it appears to have been an agreed talking point. (I see Dana Milbank reports that Republican staffers were actually handing out opposition research on Marshall’s voting record after the hearing–another sign that the war on Marshall was a formal strategy.)
At first it was unclear to me what possible complaint about Justice Marshall the Republican Senators could have had. But Dana Milbank at the Washington Post cleared things up:
Republicans saw trouble in this Marshall fellow. "In 2003, Ms. Kagan wrote a tribute to Justice Marshall in which she said that, ‘in his view, it was the role of the courts in interpreting the Constitution to protect the people who went unprotected by every other organ of government,’ " Kyl complained.
Protecting the unprotected? Say it ain’t so!
And that wasn’t all. Kagan also emphasized Marshall’s "unshakable determination to protect the underdog," Kyl said.
Let’s take a moment to remember all the great things Justice Marshall did for this country. Stephanie Jones’ thoughtful piece in the Washington Post this morning details his vital role in fulfilling the promises of the Constitution. She summarizes:
Marshall was a great jurist who used his skills to move this country closer to being a more perfect union. As a lawyer and a justice, he protected us from activist judges and the cramped thinking of politicians who tried to keep our country in the muck. And he never forgot how the high court’s rulings affect the least of us.
So what do Republicans have to gain from attacking this giant? Out west at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, columnist Joel Connelly reminded us that attacks on Marshall are just part of a larger right wing trend to de-legitimize American heroes with whom they disagree:
The political right has taken to beating up on great American presidents, with the "progressive" Theodore Roosevelt demonized by Fox’s Glenn Beck, and Thomas Jefferson ordered banished from textbooks by the Texas Board of Education.
At confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Senators from the party of Abraham Lincoln have discovered — literally — a new black hat. They are denouncing and labeling Thurgood Marshall, our country’s greatest civil rights lawyer.
UPDATE: even conservatives are perplexed by the Republicans’ anti-Marshall strategy. Check out Joe Scarborough mocking Senate Republicans: