The New York Times reports today on the conflict facing Senate Democrats as the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito begin.
From the Times article: "The Democrats, hoping to pick up seats in this year’s midterm elections, have almost as much at stake as the nominee himself. They are under intense pressure from liberal advocacy groups to oppose Judge Alito, and they are acutely aware that if he is confirmed to succeed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a critical swing vote, he could tilt American jurisprudence in a more conservative direction for decades."
Left-wing groups, most notably People For the American Way and its cohorts, are pressuring the party’s 44 senators to stand united in opposition to Alito.
However, moderate Democrats from red states who are facing re-election in 2006 must decide if they will choose the liberal base (and the money that follows) or take the political middle ground that might do more to help them in a re-election fight.
And although Alito gets solid support from most Americans (according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll), the coming weeks will be an indicator of how much power left-wing groups have over Senate Democrats.
One indicator will be whether Democrats opt for a filibuster of Alito — a possibility that seems remote, but cannot yet be ruled out.
Here’s what Ralph Neas, president of People For the American Way, told the Times today about how things got started with nominee Robert Bork’s confirmation in 1987:
"It’s amazing how often the conventional wisdom in this town is wrong. … Going into the Bork hearings, Bork was favored to win confirmation. He was decisively rejected, 58 to 42."
As for Democrats themselves, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.) wouldn’t rule out a filibuster when asked if it was under consideration.
"Because he has had some very strong statements, he is under an obligation to accept or refute those, and if he just tries to avoid them the assumption will be made that he still believes them. That puts him in a difficult position," Schumer said. "On the other hand, blocking a nominee is a big deal. So who knows? Everyone’s waiting."
UPDATE — 12:19 p.m.: On NBC News’ "Meet the Press" this morning, host Tim Russert tried to pin down Sen. Chuck Schumer on the question of a Democratic filibuster of Alito. Schumer wouldn’t give a direct answer, but importantly, he wouldn’t rule out the possibility.
"I haven’t made up my mind about how to vote and certainly whether to block him or not, whether to urge my colleagues in the caucus to filibuster," Schumer said. "But he’s got to answer a lot of questions."
Russert asked: "But you haven’t ruled out a filibuster?"
And Schumer said: "Have not ruled it out, no."
Later in their conversation, Russert followed up with Schumer about the likelihood of filibustering Alito should he avoiding answering, to Schumer’s liking, how he would vote in abortion-related cases.
"You can’t judge on one specific question," Schumer replied. "If he continuously given his previous record refuses to answer questions and hid behind this shibboleth, I can’t answer this ’cause it might come before me, it would increase the chance of a filibuster, absolutely."