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Friday, January 20, 2006

Crunch Time: Here's Why You Need to Call and Demand a Filibuster of Alito

My Democratic Senator, Ron Wyden, after some inexcusable but probably politically expedient dillydallying, has finally announced that he will oppose the Alito nomination. So far, not many Senators have come out opposing Alito -- to their shame -- but only one Vichy Democrat has announced he will actually support it (Ben Nelson, D-NE). (The Senate switchboard, toll-free, is 888-355-3588. Call and bury Sen. Ben Nelson in shame.)

This morning, Sen. Wyden called the Eugene, OR Air America affiliate, KOPT, and spoke with the morning show host, Nancy Stapp. (Note: he called them, not the other way around, which should augur something good...) Nancy brushed past the floor vote question and went straight to the only one that matters: the filibuster. Wyden answered, "I am not ruling anything out this morning." He noted that several members of the "Gang of 14" were "not inclined to support" a filibuster, so that "it will be difficult to find 40 votes to sustain a filibuster."

Most significantly, he said he wants to see WHAT THE OTHER MEMBERS OF THE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS HAVE TO SAY WHEN THEY MEET AT LUNCH NEXT TUESDAY.

There are enough Democrats in the Senate, even without Nelson, to sustain a filibuster. The Gang of 14 is irrelevant to that question. The Gang of 14 only has to do with whether there are enough votes to prevent Bill Frist from unilaterally and unconstitutionally declaring filibusters unconstitutional. And the political reality is, Frist probably can and will do just that.

The question before the Democratic Senators, therefore, is this: DO THEY HAVE THE COJONES TO FILIBUSTER, KNOWING THAT A CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS WILL RESULT?

I say they should. My earlier posts explaining why Alito is bad for America are here, here (see the Supplement near the bottom of the post), here (Alito takes a narrow view of the Government's power to regulate huge corporate monopolies), here (Alito, conversely, has a hugely expansive view of what the President is allowed to do under the Constitution), and here (Alito's evasiveness on the abortion issue puts him in opposition to 60% of Americans, who think nominees should just answer the damn question).

Don't get me wrong: Alito will be on the Court no matter what. If the Democrats filibuster, and muster enough votes to prevent cloture, then Frist will declare judicial filibusters unconstitutional and hold a floor vote anyway. Every Democrat (except maybe Nelson and Lieberman) will walk out, Alito will be elected, and the Democrats will then stall all Senate business other than military and safety legislation, at least until after the election in November.

So Alito gets on anyway, but the message a filibuster would send -- that Democrats DO, contrary to popular belief, have spines, and have the ability to affect the functioning of the Senate even though they're in the minority -- would reverberate through the press and the electorate and would yield strong Democratic gains in November. Just as Clinton won when he faced down the House Republicans over a budget bill and allowed the entire government to be shut down, the Senate Democrats will win if they face down the Republican majority over this issue. Alito's the smallest part of it: the issue is whether the Republicans can exclude the Democrats from every aspect of government, or whether they need to play ball a little. And the American people want to see both parties play ball.

America is not well-served when the Executive, both houses of Congress, and seven of nine Supreme Court justices are in Republican hands, especially when we have a President whose approval ratings are only a mere 40% yet who is trying to accrete more and more power, free of legislative or judicial oversight. America is best-served when both parties share power and the mutual "jealousy" the Founders described drives them to check and balance each other. Want smaller, more effective, less intrusive government? Then don't let either party have a monopoly. Today, that means: support the Democrats, and oppose Alito.

The Democratic caucus is meeting next week. Between now and then, we need to flood every Democratic and Independent Senator with calls, sending a clear and politically sophisticated message:

"It's not enough to oppose Alito. Senator [insert name here] needs to filibuster him, even if that means Frist 'goes nuclear.' The voters won't hold it against you. In fact, we welcome the fight!"

Call. Say exactly what I said above. Then call someone else, and repeat. Again, the Senate switchboard is 888-355-3588. There's a list of the Democratic senators, their individual phone numbers, and their emails, here.

SUPPLEMENT, JANUARY 21, 2006: Conservative Presidents generally nominate justices who lean conservative. Liberal Presidents generally nominate justices who lean liberal. That's what the American people expect, and no sensible person has any heartburn over it.

But that's not what the Alito nomination is about. Alito is a radical conservative who has done a good job at avoiding being pinned down. He isn't mainstream, just evasive enough to look that way.

Here's a hypothetical question: what would conservatives say if a liberal President nominated a candidate who was not just progressive, but was conservatives' "worst nightmare"? Wouldn't that be over the top?

Bill Frist publicly has asserted, over and over, that Sam Alito is completely in the mainstream of American thought. But last night, in what he now wishes were a private conversation, Frist told fellow Republicans that Alito is not just conservative, but liberal Democrats' "worst nightmare."

The people don't want nominees who are anyone's "worst nightmare." Senate Democrats should take Frist at his word, and filibuster the good judge. Then, next time the White House makes a nomination, it might have the good sense to choose someone who is anathema to no one.

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