He is not Harriet Miers, nor is he Robert Bork. Even Samuel Alito’s critics – and he has many, though almost certainly not enough to stop his confirmation – tend to admit that he has the legal qualifications to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. A justice on the U.S. Court of Appeals for more than 15 years, Alito’s career is as long and distinguished as it is conservative. It has been nearly impossible for Democrats to attack Alito’s skill or intellect without seeming like a whining group of ideologues. Ultimately, however, it is the failure of the Democrats to win the support of the country that has left the party without the ability to leave its mark on the makeup of the Court.
While Alito’s career has been prestigious, many of his opinions have been frightening. Alito has shown, at best, a casual concern for civil rights and disrespect for Roe v. Wade that can be described as nothing short of alarming.
Alito’s dodgy stances on key issues like abortion and his penchant for putting the rights of businesses over individuals are concerning. But there have been more startling revelations that have gone largely unnoticed. In 2001, for example, a Delaware black man appealed his murder conviction, arguing that he had been racially discriminated against when the prosecution struck the only three black jurors from the juror pool. The man was tried before an all-white jury in a county that was 20 percent black. In his opinion, Alito made a disturbing analogy between left-handedness and race. “Although only about 10 percent of the population is left-handed, left-handers have won five of the last six presidential elections,” he wrote. “But does it follow that the voters cast their ballots based on whether a candidate was right or left-handed?”
None of these opinions, however disturbing, are enough to deprive President Bush’s administration of its Supreme Court nominee in a Senate that is overwhelmingly Republican. And while the Democrats have flirted with the idea of blocking Alito’s confirmation with a filibuster, it has become increasingly obvious that such a strategy is doomed to fail in the long run. The Republican Party has the votes to confirm Alito and the talent to spin any use of the filibuster by the Democrats, however justified, as backhanded and undemocratic.
The Democrats may have already lost in keeping Alito off the bench. It is only through winning elections – not bickering about loopholes and filibusters – that he Democrats can hope to prevent others like him from sabotaging the future of justice in America.
Instead of conceding higher moral ground to the Republicans and drifting aimlessly toward centrist positions, the Democratic Party should look to its roots for inspiration. At this insecure time, the battle to define American values is ever escalating, and Democrats must be resolute in their defense of social justice, equality and freedom from fear.