[[C O U R T S]] * Sadly, last-minute Democratic efforts to stop Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court proved unsuccessful. Yesterday’s struggle to filibuster the nomination, led by Senators John Kerry and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, failed on a vote of 75 to 25, with 19 Dems crossing the aisle to help end debate. Then, earlier today, the Senate confirmed Alito as the next associate justice (replacing the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor). The final vote was 58-42, with four Democrats--Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska--voting in favor of the staunchly conservative Alito, and a single member of the Republican majority--pro-choice moderate Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island--turning thumbs down on the nominee. As MSNBC noted, “That is the smallest number of senators in the party opposing a president to support a Supreme Court justice in modern history.” (Even the embarrassing Clarence Thomas received 11 Democratic votes in 1991.)
Shortly after his confirmation, Alito was sworn in by newly minted Chief Justice John Roberts.
There’s been a lot of grumbling from Democrats over the last few days, who thought that Kerry and Kennedy were grandstanding, with little actual hope of stopping Alito’s lifelong appointment. Those critics wrung their hands over how Dems might be painted as “obstructionists” for standing in the way of Bush’s replacement for the failed nominee Harriet Miers, and they struck out at Democratic Party leaders for not acting sooner and more aggressively to roadblock Alito’s confirmation. I don’t buy it. Yes, this battle could and should been mounted long before last week. (Dems ought to have taken the opportunities presented by their recent holiday recess to speak out repeatedly against Alito, and lay the groundwork for a concerted effort to sink his appointment.) However, like blogger Bob Geiger, I’m just glad to see that Dems didn’t go down without any fight whatsoever. Too often over the last five years, Capitol Hill’s “loyal opposition” has been far too loyal and not much of an opposition at all. Kerry and Kennedy--and Chafee, for that matter--showed a lot more backbone in this matter than did those Democrats who quietly accepted an abortion opponent and presidential power proponent as the 106th white male to serve on the nation’s highest court.
READ MORE: “Kennedy Could Be Next Justice in the Middle,” by Charles Lane (The Washington Post); “Lessons Learned from the Alito Fight,” by Cenk Uygur (The Huffington Post); “The Next Alito, and Why ‘More Democrats’ Isn’t Enough,” by Tim Grieve (Salon).