"Out of the mainstream" has become shorthand in the political debate surrounding not just the judiciary, but almost every issue on which the country is divided.
It is a substitute for debate, a label that attempts to brand an opponent as unworthy of reply or, worse, a fanatic and possibly dangerous.
The trouble with "out of the mainstream" is that it has no particular meaning.
So what is the "mainstream?"
Are the 15 million Southern Baptists in the United States mainstream?
Are 20 million Pentecostals in the United States mainstream?
Of the more than 61 million baptized Catholics in the country, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds 80 percent of them approving of the new pope, Benedict XVI. Mainstream media have argued that Benedict is very conservative: Does that make 50 million American Catholics outside of the mainstream if they support their church's teaching on abortion and euthanasia?
Some political positions define their holders as outside of the mainstream. Time and time again, for instance, Americans asked to vote on the issue of same-sex marriage have rejected the idea by overwhelming margins. To advocate same-sex marriage is to declare yourself out of the mainstream by any objective standard.
But that's not what Senate Democrats have in mind when they oppose the confirmation of William Pryor, a Catholic, to the federal bench. Or the confirmation of California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rodgers Brown or Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen.
If any of these three nominees or their filibustered colleagues were to hold views in keeping with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justices who imposed same-sex marriage on the Bay State-a truly radical move by truly "outside the mainstream" judges-Senate Democrats would probably welcome them onto the bench.
"Outside the mainstream," when used by Senate Democrats and their supporters on the left or in mainstream media, usually means "center-right Christians who lean Republican." The repeated resort to this shorthand is an attempt to camouflage the hard-left politics of Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee like Patrick Leahy, Ted Kennedy, and Barbara Boxer, a deceptive attempt to confuse the public as to what they, and the nominees they oppose, really believe.
Keep that in mind the next time you have to decode a report on the confirmation battles.