Monday, January 9

If you look up jellyfish in the dictionary…

The Senate confirmation hearing on Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court is officially underway, and I’ve begun to feel like an antebellum southerner on the eve of the 1860 election. Back then, secessionists vowed that if Lincoln, who had promised to overturn the Dred Scott decision, won the presidency, they would leave the Union.

No, I don’t have a Confederate flag hanging in my bedroom. What I mean is simply this: If the Democrats in the Senate fail to filibuster Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and the unimaginable happens and he actually gets confirmed, I think that we in New England need to start giving serious thought to the idea of seceding from what’s left of the United States of America.

While much is being said about Alito’s opposition to Roe v. Wade, it is his support for broad presidential powers that I find the most troubling. In light of the current abuse of power emanating from the Oval Office, we cannot afford to have a Supreme Court predisposed to write the president a blank check. It is clear that Alito’s confirmation will push the United States further toward fascism.

If the Democrats don’t stand up and resist the pressure to confirm Alito, it will demonstrate what many of us liberals fear; namely, that there is no longer a genuinely progressive voice in mainstream American politics. That means that we in New England will continue to see our values trampled by a government that regards the liberal Northeast as little more than a punch line.

The Democrats haven’t, however, always been so spineless. In 1969, Nixon nominated Clement Haynsworth Jr., a conservative southerner, to fill the Supreme Court seat (forcibly) vacated by Abe Fortas. The Senate rejected him by a vote of 55-45. The following year, the Senate rejected by a vote of 51-45 Nixon’s second nomination, G. Harrold Carswell, who was a southern conservative with “strict-constructionist” leanings. Both men were deemed anti-civil rights and anti-labor by the Senate and, as a result, both men were rejected.

As Carswell neared defeat, Nixon wrote an angry letter to a Republican senator accusing the Senate of usurping his powers as president. The Senate majority leader, Mike Mansfield of Montana, responded by reminding Nixon that the “advise and consent” clause in the Constitution meant that the Senate shared the president’s powers when it came to filling Supreme Court vacancies. Take heed, Democrats.

Nixon’s third choice, Harry Blackmun, was approved. Blackmun is best known as the author of the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade. Oh, and as an interesting epilogue, in 1976 Carswell was arrested and convicted of battery for advances he made to an undercover police officer in a Florida men’s room.

Of course, back in 1860, there was far more support in the South for the secessionist cause than there is in the North in 2006. For now. But maybe it’s time for New England to say, “Adios, Alito. Farewell, fascist neocons. Ciao, Culture Wars.” I’ve always considered myself more of a New Englander than an American anyway.


Blogger Will said...

I've always been proud of Massachusetts ever since I came here from NYC for college, fell in love with the place and decided to make my life here. Alito's hearings will be a major flash point and I hope the Democrats have the courage and skill to play this one correctly.

Now if you REALLY want to see a fracturing of the U.S. that could lead to serious secession talk, just let Alito get confirmed and lead a movement to overturn Roe v. Wade.

3:17 PM  
Blogger jjd said...

Hmm.. I don't know if I agree with you that if the democrats don't move to filibuster than we have no progressive party left in the U.S.

If the end result of a filibuster is that the republicans use the "nuclear option" and strip the nominations from a parlimentary filibuster than we'll have removed a serious weapon in our minority arsenal for nothing.

If the filibuster can be used to successfully galavanize people and opposition to his nomination and end up being successful, well, that's a different story, but I don't think we should just knee-jerk into a filibuster without wide support against his nomination.

Like Will said, I hope the Democrats have the courage and skill to play this one correctly.

If you ask me, some of us lost our right to dispute this pick when Bush won in '04. I know the most important issue to me back then was precisely this: that the next president would likely be picking one or two supreme court justices who would shape the bench of decades to come: and of course now that is exactly what is happening.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Sandouri Dean Bey said...

Will, JJD-
Thanks for reading and for your insightful comments.

A couple of things... I think, and this might be sheer naïveté on my part, that the nukular option will make the Republicans look worse than a filibuster will for the Dems.

More importantly, however, I disagree with you, JJD (whose first name I still don't know), on the point that we “lost our right to dispute this pick when Bush won in ’04.” That, it seems to me, is actually what the Republicans would have us believe. The president does not claim the exclusive Constitutional right to appoint judges. Nor is the advise and consent process meant to be a mere rubber stamp, right?

I do not subscribe to the “to the victor go the spoils” theory of Supreme Court appointments. Nominations have been disputed in the past (as I pointed out in my post). Moreover, what the Senate Majority Leader told Nixon in 1970 resonates strongly with me. The people, through their (democratically) elected representatives in the Senate, reserve the right to dispute the president’s picks (especially when he’s an idiot). Let’s not lose sight of that. And Alito is not a moderate (which would make this discussion very different). Let’s not lose sight of that either.

11:06 AM  
Blogger jjd said...

I couldn't agree with you more about Alito. In fact, I think it's my very first post on my blog :-)

By the way, I'm not into advertising my name widely, but feel free to call me James here, which is of course, my first name.

11:51 PM  

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