Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Courage of His Convictions

[[C O U R T S]] * In June 2003, during remarks made by satellite to Democrats gathered in St. Paul, Minnesota, presidential candidate Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), said that he was “prepared to filibuster, if necessary, any Supreme Court nominee who would turn back the clock on a woman’s right to choose or the constitutional right to privacy, on civil rights and individual liberties and on the laws protecting workers and the environment.” Today, Kerry began to deliver on that promise. According to CNN, he has not only announced that he will vote against the confirmation of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to fill Sandra Day O’Connor’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, but that he will call for a filibuster to block Alito’s lifelong appointment to the Court. Daily Kos reports Massachusetts’ senior U.S. senator, Democrat Edward Kennedy, will join Kerry in his call for a filibuster.

Hurray for Kerry! Just this morning, The New York Times editorialized in favor of filibustering Alito, who would likely provide another vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, but was skeptical that Democrats could muster the effort:
Senate Democrats, who presented a united front against the nomination of Judge Alito in the Judiciary Committee, seem unwilling to risk the public criticism that might come with a filibuster--particularly since there is very little chance it would work. Judge Alito’s supporters would almost certainly be able to muster the 60 senators necessary to put the nomination to a final vote.

A filibuster is a radical tool. It’s easy to see why Democrats are frightened of it. But from our perspective, there are some things far more frightening. One of them is Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.
Now, it seems, the man who almost stopped Bush from winning a second term in the White House has caught some of the same courage that filled Al Gore last week when the former vice president denounced Bush’s warrantless domestic surveillance program as “a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power.” There’s no assurance that an Alito filibuster can succeed; Democrats must round up 41 senators willing to sustain this legislative move preventing a vote on Alito’s nomination. Three Senate Democrats--Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, and Tim Johnson of South Dakota--have already announced that they’ll support the staunchly conservative jurist’s appointment to the Supreme Court. There are 45 Democratic votes in the Senate, including that of Vermont independent Jim Jeffords; and though by Daily Kos’ count, 31 Dems have said they will turn thumbs down on Alito when his confirmation comes to the floor, all of those same opponents can’t necessarily be counted on to back a filibuster. (Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, for one, has told the media that she’ll vote against Alito--but also against trying to stop his confirmation procedurally.) On the other hand, Kerry and Kennedy might yet win filibuster support from some Republican moderates, such as Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and maybe Ted Stevens of Alaska.

The White House is smugly convinced that it already has the votes needed to promote Alito to the nation’s highest bench, and insists that a filibuster now would make Democrats look bad in the minds of voters. I’d argue just the opposite, that standing up for what you think is right--even if the odds are against you--is never a bad thing, so long as what you’re endorsing is firmly grounded in the law. (That distinction is necessary, because Bush standing up for his illegal wiretapping scheme isn’t a mark of courage so much as desperation and arrogance.) Besides, as I said in a previous post, the filibuster is only as valuable as a minority contingent’s willingness to use it. If Democrats are prevented from employing the tactic merely by fear that Republicans will do away with filibustering altogether, then what good is it anyway?

As CNN reports, Kerry is currently in Davos, Switzerland, attending the World Economic Forum. But a spokesman explains that the senator is working the phones with his political colleagues in order to drum up the support for a filibuster before a vote is scheduled, perhaps early next week.

To read what John Kerry had to say about Judge Alito on the floor of the Senate yesterday, click here.

Meanwhile, has put together the template of a message that can be easily sent to Democratic and GOP senators whose votes might make the difference between Alito’s confirmation and his defeat. Look for that template here.

And, responding to a comment made by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) that there are eight Dems in the upper chamber who will not support a filibuster, has compiled a list of those possible eight, along with contact information so that we can pressure the holdouts to back Kerry and Kennedy’s campaign.

Finally, you can find contact information for all 50 U.S. senators here. Call them. E-mail them. Let them know that you stand behind Kerry’s filibuster.

READ MORE:Kerry’s Office Says He Is Initiating a Filibuster,” by Joan Reports (Political Cortex); “More on Kerry Backing Filibuster,” by Pamela Leavey (The Democratic Daily); “Senators on Alito” (; “Reality Check,” by Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (Daily Kos); “History of the Filibuster and Cloture” (United States Senate); “Keeping the Republic” (The Left Coaster); “John Kerry Stands Up,” by James Boyce (The Huffington Post); “Learning to Lose Well,” by Digby (Hullabaloo).

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