These days, Supreme Court nominations are as much about the nation's so-called "culture war" as they are about putting a competent jurist on the highest court. Because of that, the nation will never know how an ideological enigma like Harriet Miers would have interpreted law. And because of that, the nation also is sure to have a huge fight on its hands in the confirmation of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr.
Alito's record is not a riddle. It is, by all indications, a consistent and straight-forward one of conservative thought. On the hottest of hot-button culture-war issues, his record is clear. In a 1991 case, for instance, Alito was the lone dissenting voice who would have upheld a law requiring a woman to notify her husband before seeking an abortion.
But that kind of straightforward record is an almost sure sign that his confirmation will be contentious. Already, some Democrats are hinting of the need to filibuster, which could drag the entire Senate to a halt. It would also do the nation a huge disservice.
As many critics are saying, the right wing of the Republic Party is indeed behind this second choice to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. Perhaps that's little more than American politics at work, but it tends to emphasize the nation's divisions, rather than its unity and strength. In that respect, both ends of the political spectrum share blame for where the nation is today. And the court itself, which through much of the 20th century seemed prone to legislate, must share blame, as well.
The Supreme Court is about so much more than ability and competence these days. And yet, those are the attributes that ought to matter most.
In this case, the right-wing left President Bush little choice. In Miers, he nominated someone who, if she had gotten typical Republican support, likely would have been confirmed with little trouble. But the opposition from the right, based on little more than guesswork, made her confirmation virtually impossible. Rather than risk nominating someone else who might be scuttled by the right, the president will rely on a Republican majority in the Senate to see Alito through.
We are not opposed to Alito as a Supreme Court nominee. But we are saddened that a select few issues seem to take precedence over all else when nominees are considered.
Ideally, Bush's second choice, like the first, would have been a woman. While the notion of a quota on the high court is repugnant, the idea that the high court should reflect the makeup of the nation has great merit.
But ideology takes precedence over all else these days. That's a pity.