A July 4 front-page article in The Washington Post reported that "Democrats' hopes of blocking a staunchly conservative Supreme Court nominee on ideological grounds could be seriously undermined by the six-week-old bipartisan deal on judicial nominees," according to "key senators." Later in the article, the Post reiterated that "key members of the group" that reached the May 24 bipartisan agreement on filibusters have said that a filibuster "can be justified only on questions of personal ethics or character," not ideology. But staff writers Susan Schmidt and Charles Babington identified only one "key senator," Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC), who both signed the agreement in May and stated more recently that a Supreme Court nominee's ideology could not constitute "extraordinary circumstances" warranting a filibuster under that agreement, which seven Republican and seven Democratic senators signed.
The Post falsely reported that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), who also signed the filibuster agreement, "largely concurred" with Graham's view, mischaracterizing a statement on this point by Nelson's spokesman. In fact, spokesman David DiMartino conveyed Nelson's belief that ideology could constitute extraordinary circumstances when "you get to the extreme of either side [of the political spectrum]." DiMartino stated that Nelson "would agree that ideology is not an 'extraordinary circumstance' unless you get to the extreme of either side," so perhaps Schmidt and Babington were thrown off by the use of the word "agree."
The Post's distortion of Nelson's statement was compounded by its failure to demonstrate that other senators involved in the agreement supported Graham's interpretation. Yet the Post openly adopted Graham's assessment as its own: Its headline read "Filibuster Deal Puts Democrats In a Bind." But since the agreement does not define "extraordinary circumstances," it is really Graham's interpretation of the deal, not the deal itself, that would imperil Democratic efforts to filibuster a nominee. A headline like "Lindsey Graham determined to prevent Democratic filibuster of high court nominee" would have summarized the article's content more accurately.
And though the article was ostensibly about the May compromise on filibusters in the context of a new Supreme Court vacancy, the Post cited an assessment of the vacancy by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who was not party to the agreement, before quoting either Nelson's spokesman or Graham.
From the Post article:
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of the 14 signers, noted that the accord allowed the confirmation of three Bush appellate court nominees so conservative that Democrats had successfully filibustered them for years: Janice Rogers Brown, William H. Pryor Jr. and Priscilla R. Owen. Because Democrats accepted them under the deal, Graham said on the Fox program, it is clear that ideological differences will not justify a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee.
"Based on what we've done in the past with Brown, Pryor and Owen," Graham said, "ideological attacks are not an 'extraordinary circumstance.' To me, it would have to be a character problem, an ethics problem, some allegation about the qualifications of the person, not an ideological bent."
Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), a leader of the seven Democratic signers, largely concurred. Nelson "would agree that ideology is not an 'extraordinary circumstance' unless you get to the extreme of either side," his spokesman, David DiMartino, said in an interview.
Think Progress provides a brief background on the historical relevance of ideology in the Senate's consideration of Supreme Court nominees.