Thursday, September 11, 2008

Alito: The Confirmation

(This is the sixth in our series of posts on Justice Samuel Alito. Read the first five posts here, here, here, here and here.)

After three days of uninformative hearings, Judge Samuel Alito was confirmed by the Senate on January 31, 2006. The vote was 58-42.

Sen. Collins voted for Alito.

One thing you inevitably here about Collins' vote from defenders is that it didn't really matter: Alito would have been confirmed anyway, they say.

This is an odd argument: The logical conclusion, of course, is that no one's vote ever matters--except, presumably, when there's a one vote margin.

And downplaying the significance of Collins' support for Alito is more distraction than explanation--a way to avoid discussing the vote or defending it.

But the argument is weak for another reason: It misunderstands how the Senate works.

The truth is, if Collins had declared her intention to vote against Alito, it would have shaken up the entire process.

Sen. Snowe, up for re-election, would have felt tremendous pressure to vote against Alito. And their 'no' votes would have given Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) license to split with their party.

Those defections would have turned up the heat on Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH), who was facing a formidable re-election challenge. And with the nomination up in the air, would Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) have wanted to risk the wrath of the liberal grassroots by casting what might be the deciding vote in Alito's favor?

You get the idea.

There's no way to know for certain that a Collins vote against Alito would have had this kind of domino effect. But it very well might have. Those pressures exist, and they're powerful.

So let's be clear: Collins had a real chance to radically alter the nomination's dynamics or to reinforce them. She chose the latter. And the Supreme Court was given a good hard tug to the right as a result.

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