I've long admired Sen. Robert Byrd. He long ago shed his racist past and become one of our nation's staunchest defenders of the Constitution. I'm proud to have the same "vestpocket" version of the Constitution he has; I bought it at the Capitol gift shop. His speech on the Iraq War resolution, insisting that Congress not the President has war powers and announcing, "This Senator doesn't give anyone a blank check!", was one of the best ever given on that floor, and Byrd topped my list of Senators who AREN'T Vichy, despite his overzealous porkbarreling... until he voted for cloture on the Alito debate. Damn, damn, damn. I really expected more.
Sen. Byrd is up for re-election in a red state, West Virginia. There are political reasons for him to veer right for a while. But he had plenty of political cover to torpedo Alito. Alito has ruled against regulators and for mine owners when it comes to mine safety. Several of Byrd's constituents have been killed in recently in mine accidents caused, in part, by lax federal enforcement of mine safety regulations and by judges, like Alito, that consistently favor the interests of big business over the safety of American workers.
Today, one day after still more miner deaths were reported, another West Virginia politician, Governor Joe Manchin III, had the courage to take on the coal industry, demanding that all coal mines in the state shut down operations, albeit briefly, so safety hazards can be addressed.
Governor Manchin's request is mostly political fluff; he's only calling for a brief shutdown. But at least he's making it an issue.
Meanwhile, Byrd is pretending to do the right thing too, referring to what's "fast becoming a coal mine safety crisis" in West Virginia and asking White House Chief of Staff Andy Card for additional federal resources.
But the way to keep miners and other industrial workers safe is to ensure that the overall federal program of labor, safety and environmental regulations remains solid. Yet Byrd just put his imprimatur, via his cloture vote, on yet another Supreme Court justice who doubts the federal government's Constitutional right to make such laws, who rubber-stamps anything the President does (including cutting back on mine safety resources), and who has voted against the interests of miners in mine safety cases.
Hang your head, Senator Byrd. It's too little, Senator Byrd, and exactly two days too late.