Back in 2009, when President Obama chose Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his first Supreme Court nominee, the White House expected that her compelling personal story, sterling credentials, and experience both as a prosecutor and, for 17 years, as a federal judge would win broad bipartisan support for her nomination. There was, in fact, no plausible reason for any senator to vote against her.
The president’s hope was Senator Mitch McConnell’s fear. In order to shore up his caucus, the Senate Republican leader asked a favor of his friends at the National Rifle Association: oppose the Sotomayor nomination and, furthermore, “score” the confirmation vote. An interest group “scores” a vote when it adds the vote on a particular issue to the legislative scorecard it gives each member of Congress at the end of the session. In many states, an N.R.A. score of less than 100 for an incumbent facing re-election is big trouble.