Alito, the Federalist Society and the future

Samuel Alito's confirmation is the culmination -- for now -- of two decades of work by conservatives who want to reshape the Supreme Court.

Published January 30, 2006 2:03PM (EST)

Samuel Alito will be confirmed as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court Tuesday morning. It will be, as David Kirkpatrick writes in today's New York Times, the culmination for now of two decades' worth of efforts by members of the Federalist Society and other conservatives determined to reshape the court.

For now.

Kirkpatrick's piece is a study of the way the right has built a movement around the Supreme Court -- how it set about creating support for conservative legal views in law schools, how it seeded the lower courts with right-wing judges who would eventually be elevated to higher posts, how it coordinated its message and its campaign when it came time for George W. Bush to nominate some justices, and how it beat back the nomination of Harriet Miers amid concerns that she wasn't conservative enough.

It's a depressing bit of journalism for progressives who have watched the Democrats fumble through the Alito nomination. They failed to make a clear and compelling case against Alito during his confirmation hearings, and they did not work in any sort of methodical way toward building the support that would be needed for the filibuster drive that John Kerry and Ted Kennedy finally launched Thursday. That drive will end tonight, when the Senate votes to bring the debate on Alito to a close. A lot of Democrats will stand with Kerry and Kennedy, but a fair number of them won't. And even some who will vote in favor of the filibuster are expressing something less than enthusiasm for it. "The Democrats have to do a much better job in making their case on these issues," Illinois Sen. Barack Obama said Sunday. "These last-minute efforts -- using procedural maneuvers inside the Beltway -- I think has been the wrong way of going about it."

There's nothing last minute about the way the right has prepared for this day -- or for the days like it that may come in the not-so-distant future. As Kirkpatrick writes in the Times, the right is looking ahead to the next nomination even as it prepares to celebrate its victory on this one.

By Tim Grieve

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

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