Well, it looks like some of the Democrats are going to attempt a filibuster against Samuel Alito's nomination.
The move has been roundly mocked by the Republicans and the media that parrots their point of view. (I heard CNN anchor Betty Nguyen mock Kerry this afternoon, smirking and referring to the Republican response as "giggling" at him, for instance.) True, I doubt the Democrats have the numbers to maintain the filibuster and keep Alito off the bench.
But then again, I don't think they need to do that in order to gain something from the filibuster. Ultimately, I see this not as a battle over the Supreme Court, but a battle over the Senate.
First, a filibuster of Alito would help draw attention to the position of moderate Republican Senators in the Northeast -- like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and especially Lincoln Chafee. Chafee's getting pressed from both sides on the matter of abortion rights back home, and forcing him to take a high-profile stance on Alito -- no matter which side he came down on -- would pretty much doom his re-election chances. If he stands against Alito, the Republican primary voters will go to the challenger on his right and that candidate would likely lose in the general election. Or if he stands with Alito, he'd make it to the general election but once more voters would side with the Democratic choice. Either way, the Republicans lose the seat.
Second, in general, it would be nice to show the American people that the Democrats actually do have principles, and that they'll go down swinging to defend them. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings did little to illuminate all that's wrong with Alito, and the Democrats can use the spotlight of the filibuster to make those matters clear. It would not only help demonstrate all that's wrong with the Bush vision of executive power, but also show that the Democrats can be an effective counterweight to it -- if only they had greater numbers.
Third, and most important, the filibuster would go a long way to reminding the Senate Democrats -- and the public in general -- that the Senate really does have an oversight function. That role's been largely forgotten in recent years, with Senate Republicans serving as a proxy for the president and Senate Democrats hiding from their own shadow. It's time to reassert their proper role and push back against the "unitary executive theory" nonsense that's turning this country into a elected dictatorship.
President Bush seems to think that the phrase "advise and consent" means nothing more than rubber-stamping his edicts. Funny, but just this week I watched the 1962 Otto Preminger film Advise and Consent and was reminded that Congress used to be a fully-developed organism capable of breathing and acting on its own. If you haven't seen the film, it's a great political thriller with strong performances by Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton and Walter Pidgeon. (Interestingly, Preminger had tried to cast Martin Luther King, Jr., as "Senator King" from Georgia. King considered it, but turned him down. Still, Betty White makes an appearance as a senator from Kansas, so I guess it's a wash.)
The political machinations in the movie are fascinating, but what's striking today is something taken for granted by the film's creators and original audience -- the Senate is not only allowed to have a say in presidential appointments, but they're supposed to make it difficult. It's a little thing called "checks and balances," and it worked in this country for more than two centuries. Until King George IV came along, at least.
So, yes, let's filibuster. It may not succeed in keeping Alito out of the Supreme Court, but it'll help keep Alito's ideas about unchecked executive power out of the Senate.
Update: It's looking like the filibuster drive is gaining speed. Check out firedoglake and Daily Kos for tips on how to reach your senators to urge them to join the filibuster movement.
This isn't a quixotic cause, no matter what the media and Scott McClellan might say. Sen. Feinstein was brought back from the brink, and that means anyone can be, too.