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Progressivism's Alamo

Why stare decisis has become so important to the liberal project.

11:00 PM, Jan 17, 2006 • By JOHN HINDERAKER
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Still, something deeper may be involved as well. When liberals talk about a "living Constitution," what they really mean is a leftward-marching Constitution. Liberals--especially those of an age to be senators--have spent most of their lives secure in the conviction that history was moving their way. History meant progress, and progress meant progressive politics. In judicial terms, that implied a one-way ratchet: "conservative" precedents can and should be overturned, while decisions that embody liberal principles are sacrosanct. To liberals, that probably seemed more like inevitability than inconsistency.

Over the last 25 years, however, the ground has shifted. History stopped moving inexorably to the left and began to reverse course. The conservative movement achieved electoral success under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. It took a while longer for the conservative trend to reach the judiciary, but it's no coincidence that a number of conservative federal judges, including John Roberts and Sam Alito, got their start in Reagan's White House or Justice Department. Now, 20 later, they are eligible for elevation to the Supreme Court.

So the left's natural preference for a "living Constitution" has turned into a two-edged sword. Liberals can no longer assume that constitutional change will move in only one direction. Hence their newfound reverence for precedent. That reverence, while certainly selective, is not entirely insincere, and is not only about abortion. If we draw back from the buffoonery the Senate Democrats sometimes exhibited last week, we can see a more poignant scene: an old guard trying, with more resignation than hope, to hold on to its last redoubt.

John Hinderaker is a contributor to the blog Power Line and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard.