The Senate has confirmed Samuel Alito by a vote of 58-42. Four Democrats (Byrd, Conrad, Johnson, and Ben Nelson) joined 54 Republicans (all but Chafee). The margin exceeded my low expectations by a few votes due, I think, to the quality of Alito’s performance before the committee and the desperate performance of the committee Dems.
This was basically a straight party line vote — 90 percent of the Democrats voted no. The vote changes the “rules” for confirming Supreme Court Justices. Under the Alito rule, Senators will vote against highly qualified nominee for no reason other than that they expect the nominee to rule contrary to their preference on major issues. Under the Alito rule, the president’s party, in effect, must control the Senate in order for the president to have top-notch nominees of his choice confirmed. When the the president’s party doesn’t control the Senate, only compromise nominees acceptable to both parties can expect to be confirmed.
It was objectionable for the Democrats to have changed an understanding of the Senate’s “advise and consent” role that has worked reasonably well for 200 years, or so. The new approach will probably produce more mediocre Justices, selected not for their intellect, fairness, or other judging skills, but because they haven’t offended anyone. But the process is not irrational, and in some ways it makes more sense than its predecessor in a world where the Court exercises as much power as it now does. In any case, the important thing is to have one set of confirmation rules that applies to both parties. Thanks to the Dems, we now have a new set.
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