Special to the Daily Sundial
Last week Judge Samuel Alito was confirmed as the newest U.S. Supreme Court justice. His confirmation vote of 58 – 42, which fell largely along party lines, was a victory for President Bush and a big loss for the Democrats. The Democrats brought this defeat upon themselves, however, and they did it in a way that both added to the already poisoned atmosphere in Washington. It set a new and unfortunate standard for the confirmation process.
Until recently, nominees to the Supreme Court were judged on their character, qualifications, intellect and dedication to the tenets of the Constitution, the document which they are employed to interpret. With the nomination of Judge Roberts and now Samuel Alito, Senate Democrats have demonstrated that they will now base their votes on the nominee’s personal political beliefs.
Republicans rarely gave Clinton a free pass on anything he did, but during his presidency, the GOP overwhelmingly stayed true to the idea that the president’s choice for the Supreme Court is to be honored regardless of the nominee’s ideological leanings. That unwritten privilege of the presidency is one of the consequences of a presidential election. As long as the candidate is qualified and is of a reasonably high moral character, the Senate has always honored an obligation to abide by the president’s wishes and approve his nominee.
As soon as Alito’s nomination was announced, liberal Democrats determined that they would try to stop him even though they knew that it would be an uphill battle. The reason for this was simple: in one word, abortion. In their role as the defenders of Roe v. Wade, Democrats believed that if confirmed, Alito would help take the court one step closer to overturning the landmark 1973 decision, which federally guaranteed the right to an abortion. This decision has come to define the modern Democratic party and no issue is more important to the party’s base. This meant that any senator who had any desire to run for the party’s presidential nomination in 2008 had to oppose Alito. Otherwise, if Roe was overturned and Alito cast the deciding vote, primary election opponents could point to them and say, “Roe v. Wade is no more and that senator is to blame.”
Alito is a mild-mannered kind of guy, so they couldn’t attack his temperament as they did in defeating Reagan nominee Robert Bork. Alito had no history of inappropriate sexual behavior, so that took the Clarence Thomas strategy off the table. The strategy that many Democrats had used in the confirmation hearings of Chief Justice Roberts hadn’t worked either. Democrats were at a loss. Desperate, they decided to use two old Democratic favorites: class warfare and the race card.
Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill., was the first to use what became the Democratic talking point for the week, saying that in his years on the bench, Alito had a history of deciding cases in favor of big corporations and against the “little guy.” Of course this is ludicrous, but even if it were true, a judge’s job is to uphold the law. Whether it benefits Bill Gates or Joe Six Pack is irrelevant. This strategy didn’t last very long.
With time running out, Senators Durbin, Schumer, D-NY, and Kennedy, D-Mass., decided to pick up a handful of mud and let it fly. In what qualifies as one of the most repugnant examples of political demagoguery in recent memory, the Democrats attempted to paint Alito as racially insensitive.
Using a group that Alito had once been a part of known as “Concerned Alumni of Princeton,” the senators tried to connect him to an issue of the group’s magazine, in which one of the articles had contained some racially insensitive comments. Forget that Alito had never read the article, nor did he know the individual who wrote it. It was guilt by association all the way.
The senators continued to imply that Alito was a racist and were having a grand old time until his wife broke out in tears, exposing the questioners as nasty and mean-spirited. This put an end to the Democratic strategy, as well as any hopes they might have had of defeating Alito’s nomination.
Americans now backed the Alito nomination by a substantial margin. In contrast to the Democrats, qualifications were what appeared to matter to them, not ideology. So at this point the Democrats were done embarrassing themselves to make a political point, right? Wrong.
As the confirmation vote approached, Sen. John Kerry called from Switzerland and alerted the media that he would be wasting everyone’s time by attempting to filibuster the nomination. Kerry knew perfectly well that he lacked the 41 votes needed to sustain a filibuster, but went ahead with it anyway.
Finally, on Tuesday, the Senate voted to confirm Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, just in time for the president to show off his victory at the State of the Union address later that evening.
Right now it seems that the Democrats don’t care whether or not a judge is highly qualified for the job, as long as he or she is committed to upholding Roe v. Wade. In addition to this, Democrats don’t seem to be concerned with the fact that many people on both sides of the abortion debate question the constitutional basis of Roe v. Wade. Support for a woman’s right to choose does not necessarily translate into support for a federal guarantee to the abortion procedure.
The precedent the Democrats have now set for opposing Supreme Court nominees is a very dangerous one that could dramatically hinder the president’s ability to do what is required of him by the Constitution. By opposing a nominee because his or her political beliefs does not jibe with the ideology of the opposing party, the president could potentially be forced to find a consensus candidate rather than the one that he feels is the most qualified for the job. No one, regardless of what party you align yourself with, is well served by forsaking quality in exchange for moderation. In other words, the absence of a swing vote is not an excuse to diminish the president’s power as it relates one of his most important responsibilities.
If a Democrat becomes president and the GOP maintains its Senate majority, it is very possible that conservatives will feel justified in using the same tactics that the Democrats have used in order to stop any presidential nominee with whom their political views differ.
The most unfortunate aspect of what the Democrats did to Judge Alito, however, was how their actions elevated the already bitter partisan divide in both Washington D.C. and around the country. In his response to the president’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, Virginia’s Democratic Governor Tim Kaine said that “our greatest need is for America to heal its partisan wounds and become one people.” If the Democrats really believe this, it is not evident in their behavior. This kind of hypocrisy is a perfect example as to why America is still unsupportive of the Democratic Party.
Dan Joseph can be contacted at email@example.com