From today’s New York Observer: “Chuck Schumer says that the single greatest failure of the Democrats as an opposition party was allowing Samuel Alito to join the Supreme Court. ‘Judges are the most important,’ said Mr. Schumer, who orchestrated the implausible Democratic takeover of the Senate last week. ‘One more justice would have made it a 5-4 conservative, hard-right majority for a long time. That won’t happen.’ From now on, all the President’s judicial appointments will need to meet the requirements of Mr. Schumer…”
Whoa there, Chuck. This is just one of many grandiose statements the deservedly proud Schumer utters in this fascinating piece, and if indeed he is as eager to achieve a “permanent majority” for Democrats in the Senate as he says he is, he will find his goal of protecting the Court from barbarian monsters like Alito in conflict with his goal of turning the Senate permanently blue.
Remember that, despite Schumer’s triumphalism, Democrats control the Senate by a one-seat majority. Recall that, among other Democrats, Joe Lieberman voted for both Roberts and Alito. So did Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who is up for reelection in 2008 — in a state he carried by a few hundred votes in 2002. Lieberman is, to put it mildly, not beholden to his party’s politically correct line in any way, and is freed from the mantle of party discipline. Johnson needs to seem like a conservative to win reelection. And with Lincoln Chafee gone from the Senate, the only hope of Republican defection to defeat a Bush nominee would come from Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Only Collins is up in 2008, and she is very, very popular in Maine.
It is certainly true that Schumer and other Democrats will be able to use their majority to make Senatorial appointments extremely difficult. But a Supreme Court nominee is something else again. Even though they can jerry-rig the Judiciary Committee to force a negative report out of committee for a conservative jurist, it would be calamitous for Democrats to refuse an up-or-down vote to a Supreme Court nominee. That’s the kind of obstructionism that would make front pages and the tops of news broadcasts, reflect unfavorably on Democrats and give Republicans a campaign issue for 2008.
That’s especially true if a putative Bush nomination to the Court proves as inspired on the PR side as the choices of Roberts and (after a misstep) Alito were.