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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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