As Matt Franck noted, E. J. Dionne has a column today in which he claims that conservatives are “running from [a] fight” “over constitutional principles” by downplaying the significance certain “conservative” things Judge Alito has said in the past about Roe v. Wade (and other matters). But, Dionne concedes, “[b]elieving that Roe was wrongly decided is a perfectly respectable position.” So, he asks, Why shouldn’t Judge Alito’s supporters endorse and defend his past statements, instead of dismissing them as simply things said as an advocate or a job applicant? Dionne concludes:
Some conservatives believe that doing that is the only way to win this game. They point to the defeat of Robert Bork in 1987 to argue that Supreme Court appointees are better off with a strategy of evasion. But there is quiet grumbling among members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that Alito may be telling both sides what they want to hear. That’s a long way from the searching discussion of constitutional principles that his nomination once promised to occasion.
Second, neither Dionne nor the other liberals (Sunstein, etc.) who recognize the reasonableness of opposing Roe would seem to have standing to criticize conservatives for avoiding — in the context of a hyper-partisan nomination battle — highlighting Roe’s wrongness. After all, there is no reason to think that they would ever meaningfully defend a nominee who forthrightly challenged Roe on the merits or effectively criticize the hysterical, dishonest efforts by interest groups to paint nominees who oppose Roe as “dangerous extremists.” Is there any reason to believe that Dionne (who is, I assume, personally pro-life and reasonable when it comes to Roe) actually wants an honest debate on Roe, for the sake of exposing its errors? Or, is it more likely that — even if he believes it is reasonable to oppose Roe — he simply wants to get Roe to the center of the debate, in order to stir up opposition to Judge Alito, whom E. J. Dionne would like to see blocked for other reasons?