Democrats won't filibuster Alito, but why not?

If this nomination isn't important enough, what is?

Published January 17, 2006 3:07PM (EST)

Dianne Feinstein was in the audience Monday when Al Gore accused George W. Bush of "breaking the law repeatedly and insistently" and called on members of Congress to "start acting like the independent and coequal branch of government you're supposed to be."

We wonder if she was listening.

Over the weekend, Feinstein said that she's worried that Samuel Alito will move the Supreme Court in the wrong direction on the role of Congress, on the power of the executive branch and on a woman's right to choose. "These are big issues," Feinstein said, "and I think that if you asked me who would Alito most be like . . . I'd have to say Scalia."

So what is Feinstein going to do about it? Nothing, or at least nothing that matters.

Feinstein says she'll vote against Alito's confirmation, but she doesn't think that the Democrats will launch a filibuster, and she wouldn't support one if they did. "I don't see those kinds of egregious things emerging that would justify a filibuster," Feinstein said on "Face the Nation." "I think when it comes to filibustering a Supreme Court appointment, you really have to have something out there whether it's gross moral turpitude or something that comes to the surface."

Really? And why is that, exactly?

There are legitimate reasons for not trying to filibuster the Alito nomination. Maybe you don't have the votes to pull it off. Maybe you're scared that the Republicans will go nuclear if you do. But for years now, Democratic senators like Feinstein have justified their existence by warning voters about the possibility of a court full of Scalias: Send me back for another term in the Senate -- send money to get me there -- and I'll stand up for an independent judiciary and protect a woman's right to choose. So here we are, confronted with another Supreme Court nominee who shows every sign that he'll roll over for the executive branch and roll back Roe the first chance he gets, and the Dianne Feinsteins of the world say the nomination doesn't rise to the level of a filibuster.

Tell us why you're in Washington again?

If Democrats think that a filibuster won't work, they ought to come out and say so. That would be, after all, an argument for electing more Democrats to the Senate. By suggesting instead that the Alito nomination isn't important enough for a filibuster, Feinstein makes the opposite argument with a depressing sort of effectiveness: If Democrats in the Senate aren't going to do everything in their power to block the kind of nominee they've warned about for all these years, why bother having Democrats in the Senate at all?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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