The Supreme Court has always been the focus of partisan politics because of the enormous weight the Court has on decisions regarding the constitutionality of laws that can have a great impact on society. A case in point is the controversial decision in Roe vs. Wade that effectively legalized abortion. To this day Roe vs. Wade is a political hot button that many conservatives would like to see reversed.
The court is and has always been divided along ideological lines based on conservatism and liberalism. Democratic Presidents have historically nominated liberal judges to the Supreme Court and Republican presidents have historically nominated conservative judges to the Supreme Court. This is where the partisan politics come into play. Liberal justices are more apt to create new law in accordance with their liberal ideologies whereas conservative justices tend to stick with strict interpretations of the constitution when deciding cases.
Article II of the constitution gives the president power to nominate Supreme Court Justices, who are then appointed by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate. It takes 60 votes in the Senate to confirm the nomination of a person to the Supreme Court. It is during the confirmation process where the senators try to flush out the true ideology of the nominee. These hearings are typically political battles between the liberals and conservatives who make up the Senate. If a nominee is judged to be too conservative or too liberal, then the confirmation hearing sometimes becomes a character assassination of the nominee by one party or the other. A good example of this was Robert Bork who was nominated for the Supreme Court by President Reagan in 1987. Democrats in the Senate, worried that the court would move too far to the right, warned President Reagan that there would be a fight if he nominated someone too conservative in their views. Bork’s originalist views and his belief that the Constitution does not contain a “general right to privacy” were viewed as a clear signal by Democrats that should he become a Justice on the Supreme Court he would vote to reverse the Court’s 1973 decision on Roe vs. Wade. This guaranteed that the confirmation hearings would become an intensely partisan battle. The Democrats in the Senate demonized Bork to such an extent that the term “Borked” was coined to describe any political attack on another person with the intent of demeaning the character of that person in the public persona. On October 23, 1987 the Senate rejected Bork’s nomination, with 42 Senators voting in favor and 58 voting against.