The bleak reality for liberals is that the furious response to Souter’s tenure fueled a political response from conservatives with an energy and determination that did not wane for three decades. It led to a steadily growing conviction that the shape of the Supreme Court, and the impact such a court would have for a generation, more than justified a vote for a candidate who, in earlier times, might have been happily abandoned. It meant that any tactic to protect a conservative Supreme Court—even denying a president with almost a year left in his term the right to a hearing on a nominee—was justified by the stakes. It led to a Trump administration pushing—and succeeding—to put a record number of federal appeals judged on the bench, with a Senate Republican majority abandoning traditions like the “blue slip” rule, which required at least one home state senator, regardless of party, to approve a judicial nominee.
Now, the imbalance in intensity is gone. Democrats of all stripes confront the court that is to come with full awareness of the consequences. Unfortunately for them, their faint hopes lie in retaking a Senate in an election year in which the map heavily favors a Republican retention. They will likely confront a court with five committed judicial conservatives, and an actuarial table that suggests more are on the way.