Kennedy on Alito: But we've been on vacation!

Conservative Republicans have a plan for the Supreme Court. Where have the Democrats been?

Published January 30, 2006 8:02PM (EST)

It shouldn't have been news to anyone, but apparently it was: Conservative Republicans have been working for years -- years! -- to put right-wing ideologues on the Supreme Court. The New York Times laid out the story this morning, and John Kerry and Ted Kennedy have both seized on it as an argument for filibustering the nomination of Samuel Alito.

But there's an elephant in the room here, and it's one that Kennedy, at least, doesn't seem much interested in addressing: What have the Democrats been doing while the Republicans have been scheming? Kennedy faced several variations on that question during a conference call a few minutes ago, and he never came up with much of an answer. Bruce Shapiro of the Nation asked Kennedy why Democrats didn't have a "more comprehensive battle plan" for defeating the Alito nomination. Kennedy explained that Democrats in the Senate have mixed feelings about a filibuster now. Yes, Shapiro asked, but why didn't the Democrats do a better job of making the case against Alito before the question of a filibuster arose? "That's fair enough," Kennedy said, then launched into a long non sequitur of a response that began with his brother's nomination of Byron White in 1962 and ended with his complaint that judicial nominees are schooled not to answer substantive questions from senators anymore.

We made another run at Shapiro's question a few minutes later, but Kennedy remained focused on the immediate issue of the filibuster. We tried one more time, and Kennedy finally gave something that sounded like an answer: The Democrats haven't done a better job at selling opposition to Alito, he said, because they just haven't had enough time to do so.

"I don't want to be apologetic on it, but the Senate has basically been out," Kennedy said. "This is our first vote. The Senate hasn't been back in. We've been operating in a vacuum ... We have been disadvantaged because we haven't had the opportunity to get together."

And now that the Democrats are together -- geographically if not tactically -- Kennedy says they're in a race against time for the public's attention. He said his constituents are concerned about prescription drugs, about Katrina, about heating oil and body armor and Jack Abramoff, and that it has been hard to get through to them with concerns about Alito in the brief period of time between the Judiciary Committee vote last week and the cloture vote this afternoon.

That may explain the past couple of weeks, but it doesn't say much about the Democrats' work over the past couple of decades. Or does it?

By Tim Grieve

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

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Supreme Court Ted Kennedy War Room