The Alito Opportunity

Samuel Alito’s nomination shows that conservatives aren’t interested in conserving much of anything.

Photo: Knight Ridder Tribune

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For anyone paying attention, it has been obvious for a long time that conservatives who claim that they support “judicial restraint” and oppose “legislating from the bench” mean no such thing. Those phrases—like “ownership society,” “personal accounts,” “tax relief,” “school choice,” “color-blindness,” “opportunity zones,” “devolution,” “streamlining government bureaucracy” and so on—are hollow sales pitches explicitly intended to mask an unpopular plan of action behind a misleading catch phrase that sounds beguiling. In each case, the agenda is invariably to roll back government and strengthen the hand of private interests. As Cass Sunstein noted a couple of years ago, “The Rehnquist Court has struck down at least 26 federal enactments since 1995—a record of activism against the national legislative branch.” (His outstanding book released this summer, Radicals in Robes: Why Extreme Right-Wing Courts Are Wrong For America, couldn’t have been timed much better).

Dahlia Lithwick’s Slate piece suggests that there’s a huge opportunity to educate the public about the difference between what conservatives say and how they act. She writes:

Alito is the kind of ‘restrained’ jurist who isn’t above striking down acts of Congress whenever they offend him. Bush noted this morning: ‘He has a deep understanding of the proper role of judges in our society. He understands that judges are to interpret the laws, not to impose their preferences or priorities on the people.’ Except, of course, that Alito doesn’t think Congress has the power to regulate machine-gun possession, or to broadly enforce the Family and Medical Leave Act, or to enact race or gender discrimination laws that might be effective in remedying race and gender discrimination, or to tackle monopolists. Alito thus neatly joins the ranks of right-wing activists in the battle to limit the power of Congress and diminish the efficacy of the judiciary. In that sense Bush has pulled off the perfect Halloween maneuver: He’s managed the trick of getting his sticky scandals off the front pages, and the treat of a right-wing activist dressed up as a constitutional minimalist.

There’s a pattern here that extends far beyond the courts. Conservatives say they want to strengthen Social Security, but they try to weaken it instead. Conservatives say they want to propose making agencies like FEMA more efficient by outsourcing its work, but they just gut it instead. Conservatives want judges who confine themselves to “umpiring,” but have just chosen a nominee to the Supreme Court who has repeatedly tried to rewrite the rulebook crafted by elected officials. Win or lose on this nomination, it’s another golden opportunity to connect the dots and show that modern-day conservatism has no interest in conserving anything.

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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