By rights, Roberts is the sort of brilliant, likable, and highly qualified conservative jurist who, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the left in 1993, ought to pass through confirmation without a hitch no matter what his views. But unrestricted abortion is a sacred icon to the ideologically driven left-of-center interest groups such as America Coming Together,, and Emily's List that now easily outspend the labor unions where the anti-abortion ethnic Catholics who voted the Democratic ticket used to be.

Democratic politicians need the interest-group money, so they must come a-groveling to NARAL Pro-Choice America, as the Democratic presidential candidates did last year, and swear that they will uphold Roe vs. Wade forever. Those interest groups will tolerate Catholics, such as 2004 presidential candidate John F. Kerry, who openly dissent from their church's teachings regarding abortion and related issues, but they will not tolerate any Catholic politician or judge who actually believes in what his church has to say.

The Senate Democrats, obliged to do the bidding of the ideologues who control the party purse strings, are in a tough spot. They will not look pretty hectoring the affable family man Roberts in committee hearings, much less filibustering around the clock on the Senate floor about how "out of the mainstream" they think he is.

Not surprisingly, some Democrats are looking for ways to avoid this no-win battle. But if they put up a fight, expect it to be about only one issue, abortion, and expect them to try to create a religious litmus test for sitting on the Supreme Court. The onetime party of Catholics will have turned into the party of anti-Catholicism.