Columnist E. J. Dionne’s column on the coming hearings on Judge John Roberts is remarkable for something besides the cynicism–it reveals how utterly the minority party has forgotten that it’s the president’s prerogative to pick Supreme Court justices (one of the spoils of winning an election).

Dionne writes:

“Yet many Democrats are frustrated over the difficulty of establishing exactly what kind of conservative Roberts is — or, in the case of liberal groups firmly opposed to his nomination, of proving that Roberts is still the conservative ideologue who emerges from his memos as a young Reagan administration official on matters such as civil rights, disability rights and the right to privacy. If trying to stop Roberts is a short-term political risk, letting him through without a fight might be a long-term risk to the judicial principles that liberals care about.

“Roberts would not only immediately shift the balance on the court, he is also a potential nominee for chief justice, a post in which his political skills could allow him, in tandem with another Bush appointee, to create a powerful conservative court majority for a generation. If Democrats fail to amass enough votes against Roberts in this round, they will be in a weak position to challenge him as chief justice in the next.

“Democrats are also under pressure from their liberal allies to challenge Roberts by way of clarifying what they stand for. ‘One of the worst consequences politically would be for the majority of Democrats to vote for someone who, in the near future, would overturn well-established precedents on clean air, clean water, privacy, equal opportunity and religious liberty,’ said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way.

“The alternative, Neas argues, is for Democrats to use the Roberts battle to delineate their differences with Bush and the Republican Party on such issues. Many Senate Democrats are eager to do just that, no matter how the Roberts fight comes out.”