Remember Harriet Miers!
That seems to be the rallying cry among Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee today, and for good reason: As the confirmation hearing begins for Samuel Alito, some Republicans on the committee sure seem to be having a hard time remembering what happened to George W. Bush's last Supreme Court nominee.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley both spent part of their opening statements today lecturing Democrats about their obligation to give Alito an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. Grassley went so far as to say that "the Constitution sets the standard" for how nominees must be treated: "The president nominates. The Senate deliberates. And then, we are obligated to give our advice and consent by an up-or-down vote on the nomination."
Of course, the Constitution isn't nearly so specific, and there's nothing in it to suggest that nominees must get up-or-down votes: The Constitution says only that the president "shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ... judges of the Supreme Court." And as the Harriet Miers episode indicates, if killing off a nomination short of an up-or-down vote is some kind of constitutional sin, the GOP is hardly in a position to throw the first stone: The White House withdrew Miers' nomination when Republican senators made it clear that she wouldn't survive the up-or-down vote she never got.