With Tuesday's 58-42 Senate vote, Samuel Alito joined the Supreme Court.
While my senators, Patrick Leahy and James Jeffords, cast votes against Alito, they could not overcome the Republican majority who supported him. Looking back at court nominees over the past century, only Clarence Thomas received less Senate support than Alito.
But it doesn't matter now.
Conservatives now have a solid majority on the Supreme Court for decades to come. There will now be enough votes on the court to support expanded presidential power and to erode civil rights, labor and environmental protections and, in general, attempt to turn the clock back to the way America was circa 1900.
But it's worth remembering that all the political, social and economic progress made over the past century didn't come by judicial fiat alone.
Historian Howard Zinn, author of "A People's History of the United States," set the terms of the coming struggles when he wrote the following in the November issue of The Progressive:
"It would be naive to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds. Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel, and violate the law in order to uphold justice."
If you look at the history of the United States, the courts have rarely been on the side of justice. The few times when they have been on the side of justice have been when people have pushed the courts in that direction.
The things that working people now take for granted -- the minimum wage, the 8-hour day and the 40-hour work week, unemployment insurance and Social Security, workplace safety rules and the right to form a union -- did not happen through the courts alone. It took workers brave enough to defy the courts, the police and the bosses to fight for these rights.
Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision requiring schools to desegregate, didn't just come out of nowhere. Neither did Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal. Both were the result of years of grassroots agitation that forced Americans to recognize the right to equal education or for a woman to control her body.
While it matters who is president, or who is on the Supreme Court, or who controls Congress, it only matters if one is expecting leadership, justice and the rule of law from these institutions alone.
"If the American people, who by a great majority favor that right, insist on it, act on it, no Supreme Court decision can take it away," wrote Zinn. "Fundamental change will depend, the experience of the past suggests, on an aroused citizenry, demanding that the promise of the Declaration of Independence -- a equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- be fulfilled."
Change only comes from the people. A passive, uninvolved citizenry is a citizenry that allows to happen abuses like those we have witnessed from the Bush administration over the past five years.
Of course, we know the obstacles are immense. The right-wingers control the corporate media and make it nearly impossible to get an alternative message out. They have succeeded in rigging elections through gerrymandering and electronic voting machines. And now they control the federal courts.
But direct action is all there is left -- to challenge the media to report the truth, to challenge states to have free and fair elections, to challenge our Congressmen and Senators to act in the public interest, and to protest and boycott and confront any person or institution that stands in the way of democracy and freedom.
The Capitol Police arrested Cindy Sheehan Tuesday night for having the temerity to enter the House chamber while wearing a t-shirt listing the current death toll of U.S. troops in Iraq. For the Bush Crime Family, truth is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction -- their destruction, that is -- and it must be stopped.
But they can't arrest and silence all of us. We have the truth on our side, and we shall not be moved.