Thursday, January 12, 2006

Democrats Losing Their Alito Opportunity?

David Corn blogged It doesn't appear to me that the Democrats are striking fear into the hearts of Alito supporters.

I was not aware that was their job. Precisely where iin the constitution does it say they are supposed to do that. I thought they were just supposed to advise and consent to the nomination.
They've been asking the right questions: why do your decisions so often support powerful institutions over the little guy, how deferential will you be toward executive power, why will you say you see a constitutional basis for school desegregation and the use of contraception but will not say whether abortion rights enjoy the same standing? Yet they're not telling a story. I hate to sound like a Hollywood producer (though I wouldn't mind living like one), but this hearing was an opportunity--really, the only one--for the Democrats to present an overarching narrative for the Alito nomination. They needed to define the hearings on their terms: We know Alito's a smart fellow and competent judge, but we're not going to support anyone who is likely to vote to end or drastically undermine the right to an abortion, and it's up to Alito to convince us that is not the case with him.
Why? Roe v Wade was just the result of some Judicial Activism. If it was overturned it would not make abortions illegal; the decision would just go to the states, where you could see whether you were right about how much support it had. You could probably at least get a few Blue state legislatures to approve it. Isn't that enough dead babies to make you happy?
They had to create a showdown. Why? Because otherwise not enough people are going to pay attention to the hearing, and if there is not widespread concern about Alito within the American public, the Democrats are not going to be able to block him.
Are you saying the Republicans should have let Clinton get by with Ruth Bader Ginsburg
While the Democrats have generated moments of conflict with the occasional sharp question, there has been no shaping of the event. It just looks like the usual and expected partisan back-and-forth, with Democrats looking--that is, hoping--for a gotcha moment, and Alito not obliging. (For my money, the Democrats and the liberal public interest groups have spent too much time on Alito's membership in the conservative Concerned Alumni of Princeton outfit. I understand why his affiliation in a group that was opposed to boosting the admission of women and minorities at his alma mater seems to his foes to be powerful ammo, but it did happen two decades ago and does not speak directly to the issue of what is at stake today.)
And from what I hear that is not the purpose of the organization, but just what a few articles in their magazine called for, and the magazine said the opinions of the authors do not reflect the opinion of the organization.
After the first day of questioning, many anti-Alito advocates were disappointed in the Democrats, who failed to create a larger dynamic for the hearing. One problem: the most effective interrogators on the Democratic side have less seniority on the committee. The best hitters--Russell Feingold, Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin--come at the end of the Democratic lineup, long after the old lions--Pat Leahy, Ted Kennedy--have had their turn and have set the tone. Durbin even didn't get his swings at Alito until Day Two. By then the die was cast. Or the moment lost.

And Alito--no John Roberts Jr.--has been doing just fine. He stares at his Democratic inquisitors with an unvarying expression that might even creep them out a little. But he has not gotten flustered. He has given non-answers that often sound like answers, rather than say he would not answer a question. He comes across as dweebish, hardly threatening. Which is why the Democrats needed to make this hearing not so much about him but about larger principles. They had to do it with drama and flair. They had to do it in a way to capture the public imagination. Maybe this was too tall an order and not realistically possible. But it certainly hasn't occurred. Alito is closer to the Big Bench, and America is closer to an unrestrained conservative-tilted Court with a majority of justices hostile to abortion rights.
Closer, but not close enough. I would still like to see one or two of the left wing Justices resign or die.

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