Before the massive smear campaign that defeated the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court back in 1987, Antonin Scalia was confirmed unanimously -- even though he and Bork had voted almost identically in cases on the Circuit Court of Appeals.
On a couple of cases where they voted differently, Scalia took a more conservative position than Bork. Why then was Scalia considered to be enough in the "mainstream" for his nomination to sail through, while Bork was branded a right-wing "extremist"?
It had nothing to do with Scalia or Bork. If Bork had been nominated first, he would have sailed through and then Scalia would have been branded a right-wing extremist, because then Scalia would have been the prospective "swing vote" on the Supreme Court.
Similarly, Judge John Roberts' nomination to be Chief Justice sailed through because he was just replacing another conservative, while Judge Alito would be replacing Justice O'Connor, who was more acceptable to the liberals.
Those Senators who smear and denounce judicial nominees on nationwide television, and then afterwards hypocritically assure them privately that there was "nothing personal" are, in a certain twisted sense, correct. They would have lied and smeared anyone else in the same situation.
This is also not about Samuel Alito personally in a different sense. The larger question is how we are going to get the good people that we need on our courts, if they have to go through smears and petty harassment during confirmation hearings.
Highly qualified people usually have other options and many of them may go elsewhere rather than become the butt of cheap political games on nationwide television.