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How Christine O'Donnell Should Have Answered the Supreme Court Question

4 years ago
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All things considered, Delaware GOP senate candidate Christine O'Donnell did well during Wednesday night's debate with Democrat Chris Coons. (My colleague Jill Lawrence has a detailed report.) The stakes were high (why was CNN nationally broadcasting a debate for a race that isn't terribly close, anyway?), and she largely held her own.

But if there was one moment when she stumbled badly, it was when O'Donnell could not name a single recent Supreme Court decision that she disagrees with.

The problem, of course, is that this plays into perceptions about O'Donnell's competence and experience -- and perhaps also reinforces negative comparisons to Sarah Palin (who also struggled with this question).

Here's a brief transcript of the most pertinent parts:

NANCY KARIBJANIAN: What opinions, of late, that have come from our high court, do you most object to?

O'DONNELL: Oh, gosh. Um, give me a specific one. I'm sorry.

KARIBJANIAN: Actually, I can't, because I need you to tell me which ones you object to.

O'DONNELL: Um, I'm very sorry, right off the top of my head, I know that there are a lot, but I'll put it up on my website, I promise you.

WOLF BLITZER: We know that you disagree with Roe v. Wade.

O'DONNELL: Yeah, but she said a recent one.

Anyone who wants to criticize O'Donnell -- or her debate preparation -- should try being grilled on national television for 90 minutes.

It's simply very difficult for any person to master the number of issues that might come up during a debate. There were several times when I was quite impressed with O'Donnell's answers. It's also fair to note that because the court currently leans conservative, it is not surprising that there are relatively few high-profile cases that a conservative, such as O'Donnell, would disagree with.

By the same token, it's fair to expect a U.S. senator to have a firm grasp on Supreme Court decisions. After all, they do vote to confirm Supreme Court justices, a very serious responsibility.

Hindsight is 20/20, but it's worth considering what O'Donnell probably should have said. Or more importantly, what should the next conservative say when asked this question?

I would suggest two recent cases that O'Donnell might have cited: Kelo v. City of New London and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission.

Kelo, of course, involves the use of eminent domain to allow government take land from citizens and transfer it for development. Aside from infringing on property rights, conservative opposition to this decision demonstrates how it is wrong to say that conservatives are always on the same side of issues as "big business."

McConnell v. FEC upheld the constitutionality of many of the most egregious portions of McCain-Feingold, a law many conservatives believe to be an infringement on the First Amendment.

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Doesn't matter 90 minutes or less or more...O'Donnell, just like Palin, knows nothing. A person who is well educated in polictical science and government and who is running for Senate, SHOULD know what they feel about the issues dealing with politics and government. Why would anyone want someone like O'Donnell in the Senate?'Donnell

October 28 2010 at 12:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@drsoar who writes: "It is not unconstitutional for a STATE to establish a State religion." It most certainly is. The Constitution states very clearly that states cannot pass laws that violates federal law. Any law adopted by a state declaring an official religion would be deemed unconstitutional.

October 21 2010 at 12:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The meaning of the 1st Amendment regarding the role of religion in these United States is that the Federal government can neither impose upon nor impede a citizen's practice or non-practice of religion. Consider the 1st amendment religion clause along these lines: Only congress makes federal law. The first Amendment removes all jurisdiction of Congress and thereby of all other branches and derivative institutions of the federal government, such as federal courts and federally funded schools, over religious exercises. No federal entity may infringe, control, inhibit or subvert any person's exercise of religion. It is not unconstitutional for a STATE to establish a State religion - - there were several in existence at the time of constitutional ratification, the First Amendment prohibiting the dis-establishment of those State religions]. Our laws place no limits on the public expression of religious beliefs. The idea of “separation of church and state” is based on the first amendment to our Constitution. Our government “ . . . shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion nor prohibit the free exercise thereof.” The “establishment of” religion means either an established entity or the act of creating an entity. No level of our government, federal, state, city, precinct, public school or any public officer can regulate an established religion nor infringe its free exercise. The “separation of church and state” is a separation protecting the inalienable right of each of us to worship and to do so freely, openly, and publicly. Public display of religious ideas in public arenas is not the making of law and is legitimate social expression. No person in these United States is required to engage in religion but no person who is upset by the religious displays of others has any grounds upon which to curtail such observances - - most certainly not on the basis of the First Amendment! The Constitution of the United States describes the functions granted by the People to the federal part of the governing apparatus of the United States [Federal, State and Local agencies]. The U. S. Congress is the ONLY law-making body for federal law. The first amendment to the Constitution prohibits the congress from making any law “ . . . respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The sole purpose of this section of the first amendment is to protect the individual right to practice a religion. The correct meaning of the phrase “The separation of Church and State” [appearing no-where in the Constitution] is that the state is not allowed to infringe on the individual in this respect! Thus, no part of the federal government (including judges of federal courts) nor any derivative agent such as federally-funded educational institutions, have any jurisdiction over the exercise of religion - - there is no authorization for any such private or state entity to infringe, control, subvert, restrict or in any way inhibit the FREE* exercise of religion at any place or at any time! “FREE:” Uncoerced, chosen, unfettered, voluntary, unrestrained, unbounded, independent, autonomous, sovereign.

October 21 2010 at 11:22 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

You miss the point. O'Donnell and these other Tea party nut jobs are constantly criticizing "activist courts." If that's such a big issue, you think she would know at least one decision she could point to she disagrees with. The inability to come up with an answer also exposes her inexperience and incompetence. Finally, if she doesn't disagree with any of these recent extreme decisions this current Court is spewing out, that would suggest she agrees with them. For example, Citizens United that has literally put our Country and our laws up for sale to anyone in the world who has the means to buy and election or legislation.

October 21 2010 at 9:20 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Jim Silberman

The media reporters (I hesitate to call them journalists) respect articulate, well educated people, like themselves. They respect people whose values are on the left, like themselves. They do not like anyone who expresses views which counter their narrative on any issue. The left wants the public to believe that the Constitution is anti-religious. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The sole reason for the First Amendment was that these former British subjects did not want America to replicate the Church of England. The did not want government to ESTABLISH a state sanctioned religion. That is the sole reason for the First Amendment. I hasten to add that leftist federal judges since appointed to the bench by democrat presidents in the last 50 years have tried to INTERPRET the Constitution as being anti-religious, hence the public's confusion. Christine O'Donnell is a poor messenger, but her message is correct. Once again, "the smarest guys in the room" are wrong.

October 21 2010 at 8:32 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jim Silberman's comment

Jimmy, Try to follow the math with your comment: "leftist federal judges since appointed to the bench by democrat presidents in the last 50 years ..." A Judge appointed by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson would be far and few between today. If JFK appointed a 30-year-old to the Federal bench in 1963 before he was assassinated, he would be 83 today. The odds are against a 30-year-old being named to the bench, so a 40-year-old would be 93. I would bet there are very few JFK/LBJ appointees around today. Since 1968, Democrats have controlled the office of president for less than 14 years (Carter 4, Clinton 8, Obama less than 2) That means all of these "leftist judges" you are crying about have been appointed by ... drum roll, please ... Republicans. Don't you hate it when facts get in the way of gibberish?

October 21 2010 at 3:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

She did well? Interruption after interruption,,,she certainly should of lost points over that.

October 20 2010 at 10:34 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Please define "real American". I am a Veteran, vote in all elections, married with kids, worked all my adult life, support equal rights and all religions even though I am an athiest. So according to Palin and her step daughter O'Donnell that makes me a "fake American"? This person is like most tea bagger candidates, a fraud. She lied about her education, has been recorded numerous times making statements that should make anyone with a half a brain cringe. She is an embarrasment to the political process.

October 20 2010 at 7:43 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Some are criticizing the way the contestants for public office are being questioned , to me its quite embarrassing to have individual's who aspire to become Public Servants who don't even know our History or recent event's such as Supreme Court rulings . call me old fashion if you will .

October 18 2010 at 11:48 AM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply

What's behind asking a candidate to answer pop quizzes? Gibson did it to Palin and now they're are doing it to O'Connell. Are they are trying to make them look ignorant? BO could be asked questions that he doesn't know -- economic ones for example. On the other hand, O'Connell may not have wanted to pick a SC decision for critism so as not to have herself categorized and then pilloried by the Left or some group. That Takings rulings really stuck. And I think even progressives agree on that.

October 17 2010 at 7:43 PM Report abuse -12 rate up rate down Reply

Matt Lewis & the News? - I hope Huey sues.

October 16 2010 at 12:37 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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