THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT 22 Democratic senators voted to confirm John G. Roberts Jr. as the 17th chief justice of the United States. That's more than anyone would have imagined just a few months ago, when the talk in Washington was all about filibusters and nuclear options. The bad news is that 22 Democratic senators voted against Roberts. That's far more than the handful of Republicans who voted against Bill Clinton's two Supreme Court appointees, Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Washington's recent polarization suggests things could have been worse. But it is still alarming that 22 Democrats voted against a nominee of Roberts' caliber. Last November, the American people granted President Bush the power to appoint Supreme Court justices, and in his first opportunity to exercise this power he has acted responsibly, choosing a mainstream conservative with unimpeachable credentials. Half the Democrats in the Senate -- including such independent-minded liberals as Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, both members of the Judiciary Committee -- did the right thing by supporting the president's choice.
But too many Democrats beholden to liberal interest groups embarrassed themselves and the party by opposing Roberts. These groups wield disproportionate power in mobilizing activists and raising campaign funds, but they do not speak for the majority of Americans or even most Democrats.