Stopping Samuel Alito

Two months ago, I wrote of the Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts: "If the Dems cry wolf over Roberts, and Americans see during his hearings a sympathetic guy, there will be that much less credibility available when Bush nominates someone really bad to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whose seat Roberts originally was to fill." With the nomination of Samuel Alito, that day has come.

Roberts and Harriet Miers were stealth nominations who lacked paper trails of, and personal candor about, judicial philosophy, which obscured these nominees' radically conservative judicial agendas. (Miers, of course, also was staggeringly lacking in relevant experience.) There is no such coyness in Samuel Alito. We know exactly what we're getting here: a judge who will act to roll back a century's worth of gains in individual rights and checks on corporate and government power. Ignore the soothing messages being given on Capitol Hill—where, as Clarence Thomas showed, there is no penalty for lying one's way into a lifetime appointment—and focus on Alito's lifetime record. His 15 years of achievement on the federal bench are brimming with examples of desire for rollbacks of abortion, privacy, equal rights for women and minorities, rights of employees in the workplace, and the authority of Congress itself. Alito would send Rosa Parks to the back of the bus, women into back alleys, and police into the bedrooms of innocent Americans. Regardless of the political weakness and criminal malfeasance hanging over this White House, there is no greater priority right now for the future of this country than stopping the ascension of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. He's that bad.

Senate Democrats were nearly evenly split on the confirmation of Roberts; with a fractured opposition, he sailed through his confirmation vote. There should be no such ambivalence about Alito. Democrats were nearly united in their condemnation of Bush's pick, just as the religious right was effusive in praise. But it will take more than the Democrats to stop Alito. Unlike Miers, this is a nomination for which the Republican leadership in the Senate will fight. A filibuster is not enough. Senate Republicans have the votes to invoke the "nuclear option" and, essentially, outlaw filibusters, another grave consequence of this nomination.

Alito's rejection will require the votes of moderate Republicans. That means those Republicans—Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, George Voinovich of Ohio, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and a handful of others—must be made to vote "no" in defiance of party leadership. That, in turn, means it needs to be crystal clear to such senators that a vote for Alito will cost them their jobs. Nothing less will work.

This is a deeply polarizing selection. Once again, President Bush has demonstrated that he is not merely a panderer to the radical right, he is one of them. With no need for re-election, rhetoric about "being a uniter, not a divider" is long forgotten. No matter how low he sinks in public opinion polls over the next three years, the president still has a great deal of power, particularly with his party in control of Congress and a large chunk of the federal court system.

It will be exceedingly difficult, but if voters are motivated enough, they can do something about that one-party rule in the midterm congressional elections next year. There are no such options for the judiciary. This is what we were voting on in 2000 and 2004: the future composition of the Supreme Court. This is the consequence of those elections being stolen. If Alito is confirmed, it will change the Supreme Court's balance of power for the next 30 years. And there's every chance that Bush will have at least one other Supreme Court vacancy to fill before 2009, too.

At this point, the only way a nomination like Alito's can be stopped is by a massive show of opposition by the American people—and even that may not be enough. For the moment, forget the indictments, forget the war. Get out in the streets, get in to your senators' offices. Write, phone, e-mail, urge everyone you know to do the same. Organize. That's what it will take.

The Senate hearings are scheduled to begin Jan. 9. We have seven weeks. Use them.

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