The president hasn't nominated anyone to the Supreme Court yet but Democrats on the fringe are tuning up the Borking machine. The target is not the nominee, but the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Jeff Sessions of Alabama became the No. 1 Republican on the committee assigned to vet the nominee when Arlen Specter performed successful transplant surgery on himself. The assault on Mr. Sessions is intended to intimidate, to tell him to remember his place, to tug his forelock and salute just as Arlen would have done.
The racist slurs against Mr. Sessions aren't particularly vicious but they predict the tone and temperature of the hearings on whoever Barack Obama sends to the Supreme Court to replace David Souter. The rap on Mr. Sessions is that he's male, white, a Southerner from Alabama, bears a crypto-Confederate name and talks funny. Any of these charges are hanging offenses on the nutcake left, and even airing them out - as the accusers are counting on a compliant media to do - should be enough to make Republicans cower in shock and awe.
The senator's Democratic colleagues have been going out of their way to have nothing to do with the smear percolating on the Internet, though it's early and anyone who has been in Washington for more than a weekend knows better than to count on a United States senator to be a stand-up guy. When the chips are down, they're usually in the pocket of one of the distinguished gentlemen slinking toward the side door.
Making Jeff Sessions out to be a clone of Gene Talmadge or Theodore Bilbo will be difficult. This is not the season for dead white males, particularly if they're not dead yet, but Mr. Sessions can't finesse the circumstances of his birth. He bears the names of both Thomas Jefferson, a Virginia slaveholder of no particular distinction, and P.G.T. Beauregard, the commander of the Confederate line at First Manassas who led the rout of the Union army.
Mr. Sessions received his name from his father, who settled "Beauregard" on him with the pride that a Muslim father might feel in settling the middle name "Hussein" on a son destined for big things in Washington. A reporter for the National Journal was bothered by his speech (not a patch on Jimmy Carter's deep-dish Georgia accent), which the reporter found "Southern-sounding," and asked what he could do to soothe delicate ears.
"I think we have to do the right thing," he replied. "And so I think our committee should follow our principles. But I'm just one member. I had my views when Senator Specter was chairman, and I didn't always agree with him. So I have one vote. … I speak for myself."
This would satisfy everybody but the aggrieved nutcakes. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee who is not always the voice of sweet reason and partisan cordiality in his party, nevertheless praises Mr. Sessions for his "cordiality and integrity," and notes that Jefferson Beauregard Sessions supported Eric Holder's successful nomination to be the attorney general. And besides that, he admires women and some of his best friends may be Jews.
Given the Democratic strength in the Senate, concerns for the confirmation of whoever the president nominates seem misplaced unless Mr. Obama chooses Ramsey Clark or an ACLU hack between clients.
Maybe he will.
The president's farewell toast to David Souter suggests that he's not necessarily looking for a lawyer who understands the Constitution and the meaning of an oath to protect and defend that Constitution, but a nominee who knows all the words to "Kumbaya" and wants to give the world a Coke. "I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about abstract legal theory or a footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy … as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions."
This is an odd job description from a man who once taught constitutional law, but there's a considerable difference between the Constitution and constitutional law. The Constitution is a remarkable document, written by learned men in the plain language that the common man understands. The modern study of constitutional law is the work of lawyers trained to deconstruct plain language in search of things the authors of the Constitution never put there. Mr. Sessions and his colleagues have thankless work to do.