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The Last Liberal

Written By vibykhmer on Friday, August 28, 2009 | 6:59 AM


by Orrin Judd

Let me begin by offering a personal story about Ted Kennedy that is illustrative, but quite possibly apocryphal. At the time of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, he was a Senator from New York. The other member of the delegation was the liberal Republican, Jacob Javits. In that time of less politicized judiciary appointments, senators had significant sway with the White House and the party in power made a less concerted effort to pack the courts with ideologically safe choices. At any rate, the two politically similar senators had worked out a deal to the effect that for every two judges RFK got to recommend, Mr. Javits would get one.

As it happened, my grandfather, Orrin G. Judd, had gotten their joint nod, on April 25, 1968, to fill an open seat on the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, but with RFK out of the way, the Johnson administration started making noises about withdrawing the nomination and naming a Democrat instead. The story has it that Senator Javits went to the Senator from Massachusetts, explained the deal he’d had with the dead brother and asked Ted to intervene with the White House. He did and the appointment was confirmed on June 24, 1968.

While this anecdote naturally inclines me to be a tad more charitable to Ted Kennedy than many conservatives, the takeaway is really what a creature of the institution of the Senate and of Washington he was. There must have been some irony for Mr. Kennedy when Barack Obama became the first senator elected to the presidency since John F. Kennedy, despite his never having passed a significant piece of legislation through the chamber. Ted Kennedy, by contrast, steered some 300 bills into law, a legislative record that is likely unparalleled in the history of the US Congress. The imprint he leaves behind effects every facet of our daily lives, from immigration liberalization to passage of civil rights laws to trucking and airline deregulation to election and campaign finance reform to funding for cancer and AIDS treatment and research to No Child Left Behind and so on and so forth. And his skills as a parliamentary infighter and role as a voice of the party served him well when it came to stopping Executive branch appointments too, as witness the way he single-handedly transformed the Robert Bork nomination to the Supreme Court, turning a seeming done deal into a vote that few Democrats could afford to oppose him on.

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