One day after an unsuccessful filibuster attempt, the Senate confirmed Bush Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito, widely opposed for his extreme right positions, by a 58-42 vote. It was the second closest Supreme Court confirmation vote in 100 years, topped only by the 52-58 vote approving Clarence Thomas in 1991. This time four Democrats — Robert Byrd (W.Va), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Tim Johnson (S.D.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) — voted with the Republicans, while moderate Republican Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) broke ranks to vote no.

The filibuster, led by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), was supported by 24 Democrats and Independent Jim Jeffords (Vt.). It marked the largest revolt in years by senators against Bush’s initiatives.

Hillary Shelton, executive director of the NAACP Washington office, told the World the efforts of Kerry and the other senators were made possible by grassroots opposition to Alito.

“They really are a creation of their constituencies,” Shelton said. “Go back and see who’s at home. You’ll see people who are committed and engaged, that want to see an advancement of civil rights and civil liberties, and racial justice concerns; they give them the support they need to come out and be that champion.”

People For the American Way President Ralph Neas said the close confirmation vote “represents an extraordinary effort by the progressive movement which, despite daunting odds from the beginning, never gave up, made a compelling case against confirmation, and rallied several million Americans to contact their senators to oppose Alito.”

Alito, age 55, is likely to affect the Supreme Court’s decisions for decades to come.

Shelton noted that Alito has “a political agenda that has played out through his judicial role.” As a federal judge, Alito eviscerated “the protection of individual rights in favor of advancing the goals and objectives of large corporations and governments. And that raises concern in a country like ours that puts a high value on democracy and the protection of individual rights.”

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney noted that the labor federation had expressed “grave concerns about this appointment.” Sweeney said, “As a member of the Supreme Court, Justice Alito will weigh in on cases that will impact generations of workers on vitally important issues ranging from health and safety and discrimination to minimum wage and the freedom to form a union.”

Crystal Plati, executive director of Choice USA, said through a spokesperson, “Alito’s confirmation to the court needs to be a rallying call to all Americans.”

“We can elect pro-choice leaders in 2006 and change the shape of our school boards, city councils, state legislatures, and the U.S. House and Senate to ensure future victories that reflect our values rather than Judge Alito’s,” Plati said.

PFAW’s Neas said people “must work to ensure that someday soon there will be a progressive Senate that better represents the values and beliefs of a significant majority of the American people.”

Some commentators have said the Democrats who voted “no” to Alito but also voted “no” to a filibuster did so because they feared that Majority Leader Bill Frist would force a majority vote to ban the filibuster.

Responding to that, Shelton said, “I don’t think that the members of the U.S Senate should give into the threats of those that would go as far as changing or even breaking the rules of the Senate to get their way. Quite frankly, I think they need to realize that the American people would be on their side. The American people are underestimated too often. We don’t stand for bullies.”

“This is the first of many fights for the soul of our democracy,” Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, said, “and we will eventually emerge victorious.”