My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


Roberts For Chief

President George W. Bush nominated conservative appeals court judge John Roberts on Monday to replace the late William Rehnquist as Supreme Court chief justice, the top judicial position in the United States.

Some--in fact, many--have described this as a tactically sound move. Me, I'm not so sure.

First, let me state for the record that I KNOW NOTHING--I am not a lawyer, have never worked for lawyers, have never clerked anything, and really am nothing but a slightly over-interested observer.

That said, here I go.

Roberts appeared to be sailing to a fairly easy confirmation, starting with hearings tomorrow. Though he was not in the "O'Connor" mold, he seemed to have solidified his support to the point that that was not going to hold up his confirmation. In that, the Court would have ticked perceptibly to the Right. Following that, then the President could have gone for a replacement for Rehnquist in the Rehnquist mold--a strong, fiesty conservative. He could have even doubled down on Senate Democrats and nominated a woman as the First Chief--that would have driven the Left mad and all but guaranteed a successful confirmation.

Moving to elevate Roberts puts the President in a dicey tactical position. Now Roberts can succeed his mentor, and he should have a relatively easy go of it. But the next position, which is again the O'Connor position, will turn into the political football of the decade. Be sure that the feeble cries that the President should have appointed a "moderate" to replace the pivotal O'Connor will be redoubled, and the best anybody should expect from this Senate is hearings in November or December, and, if we're lucky, a vote sometime early next year--too far into the Court's Session to have an impact on this term.

Now, we've all seen how this President ignores conventional wisdom, and I anticipate that he will do the same thing this time. But, following the PR disaster that was last week (deserved or not), his position is significantly weakened. I'm not sure he has the political capital to hammer one through. I would lay better-than-even odds at this point on the Democrats filibustering whoever President Bush nominates, which would throw this whole process to the mercy of the Gang of Fourteen. And I'm not sure I like the whole process being in that position.

Please be clear: none of this is to disparage Judge Roberts' qualifications to the job of Chief Justice. I think he will be GREAT, and will have a chance to influence the Court for decades in ways that his predecessor--due to the dynamic of the Court itself--never had a chance to.

But I think that second position will cause enormous political upheaval--it will be a knock-down, drag-out fight that, probably, escalates into a rhetorical gun fight.

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