I never thought we had a strong chance of keeping Alito off the Court; either we would lose the filibuster due to the defections of poor strategists and cowards, or Frist would rule judicial filibusters unconstitutional. Either way, Alito would have been confirmed.
But I did want an un-clotured filibuster anyway, in part because the political and electoral fallout over the Republican exercise of the "nuclear option" would have been so severe that the Republican rank-and-file would not have tolerated another non-consensus candidate in the future. In other words, the filibuster battle one week ago wasn't over Alito, it was over the even worse neocon that Bush will appoint -- knowing there will be no real Democratic resistance and therefore no adverse consequences to his party -- if another vacancy arises.
Put differently: the filibuster fight wasn't over O'Connor's replacement; it was over Stephens'. And our Democratic leaders utterly failed to comprehend that simple strategic reality.
Only two of the nine Supreme Court justices were appointed by Democratic Presidents: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens. Ginsburg will turn 73 on March 15, 2006. Stevens will turn 86 on April 20, 2006.
The failure of Democratic leadership last week means that the survival of nearly a century's worth of Progressive legal precedent depends largely, not on the political or even the judicial process, but on the biology of aging. Our nation's fate is largely in the hands of mortality tables. Which made me look up the numbers:
According to the Health Care Financing Administration, a 73 year old female has a life expectancy of 13.3 additional years. An 86 year old male has a life expectancy of 4.89 additional years. As of Stevens' next birthday, President Bush will have 2.85 more years left in office -- a 2.04-year leeway. On average. With huge variability.
The fact that Stevens' statistical life expectancy is greater than 2.85 makes me breathe a tiny little bit easier, but damn our leaders for delegating the Senate's "advise and consent" function to a bunch of insurance actuaries.