WASHINGTON — Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint on Thursday offset each other's votes on Solicitor General Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination, with Graham backing her to become the third sitting female justice and DeMint opposing her.
The Senate confirmed Kagan by a 63-37 margin that largely followed party lines. Graham joined four other Republicans in voting for her; DeMint was one of 37 GOP senators to oppose her, along with Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
"My view of Elena Kagan is quite simple," Graham said on the Senate floor before the vote. "I found her to be a good, decent person — well qualified in terms of her legal background to sit on the court."
The outcome marked the second time in a year that Graham and DeMint, both South Carolina Republicans, parted ways in voting on a high court nominee by President Barack Obama.
Graham had more GOP company in the Aug. 6, 2009, Senate vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic justice. He was among nine Republicans who supporter her.
Graham and DeMint expressed widely divergent views of their constitutional roles as senators in exercising the founding document's "advice and consent" oversight of presidential nominations.
DeMint, heavily favored to win his second Senate term in November, criticized Kagan as a liberal activist jurist willing to bend constitutional principles to suit her political agenda.
"I oppose Ms. Kagan's nomination because she, in my opinion, does not believe in constitutional limited government," DeMint said before the vote. "She does not believe in the original intent of the Constitution."
Graham, a military lawyer, said it was Obama's prerogative to choose a justice who reflects his political views.
"Her views are well to the left of me and my views," Graham told McClatchy after the vote. "But under both the constitutional and historical standards of Supreme Court confirmations, my vote is not supposed to be based on whether I, as a senator, agree with the nominee.
With Kagan's elevation, three of the nine Supreme Court justices are women for the first time in U.S. history. In addition to Obama's two picks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the high court in 1993 after her nomination by President Bill Clinton.
Graham noted that the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, the long-serving South Carolina Republican he succeeded in the Senate, voted to confirm Ginsburg.
Kagan, a 50-year-old former Harvard Law School dean, had a joke-filled series of exchanges with Graham during her Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month, when he was the only Republican on the panel to vote to confirm her.
"Choosing a liberal lawyer from a president who campaigned and governs from the left is not a wrong reason" for Kagan to sit on the Supreme Court, Graham said.
"The wrong reason would be if the person you chose was not worthy of the job, did not have the background or the moral character to administer justice. I cannot find fault with Elena Kagan using that standard," he said.