Monday, September 19, 2005

A "No" Vote on Roberts

I don't want to start the fur flying with my colleague The Moose, who did a post earlier today explaining why he'd unenthusiastically vote to confirm John Roberts Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. But I definitely disagree; like him, speaking for myself only.

To compress The Moose's argument somewhat, he suggested that Roberts is acceptable because (a) he's not a crazy person, and (b) Bush won the election, and presidents of either party deserve some benefit of the doubt on judicial nominations.

I, too, am happy that Roberts appears to have ruled out paid-up-membership-in-good-standing in the Constitution In Exile movement. But Lord-a-Mighty, I hope we haven't gotten to the point where the only disqualifier for a conservative Chief Justice would be if he or she openly and defiantly declares that most of the works of all three branches of the federal government over much of the twentieth century violates the Original Intent of the Founders, and must be overturned by judicial fiat.

The fruits-of-victory argument is probably more important to the case for accepting Roberts, since it applies to the Democratic presidents of the future as well as to Bush.

But I would respond that Bush has already deeply undermined that tradition by (1) refusing any serious bipartisan consultation over his judicial nominations, in sharp contrast with his predecessor, Bill Clinton, who almost certainly took a few names off his potential SCOTUS list to avoid a confirmation fight; and (2) engaging in an open, high-stakes campaign to reshape the Court and U.S. constitutional law through his appointments, with Roberts serving as the linchpin if not the ultimate tipping point.

In other words, we are at a moment in which Supreme Court appointments represent a lunge towards Eternal Life for this wounded presidency. If stopping that lunge means sacrificing routine Republican votes for future Democratic SCOTUS nominations, so be it.

And that, I would contend, is the most compelling argument against the final and best rationale for not worrying about Roberts: he's just a one-for-one replacement for Rehnquist, and thus does not change the balance on the Court.

That's true, but Roberts is 50 years old, and since, as I profoundly hope, 50 is the new 30, he therefore represents in all probability at least a thirty-year extension of Rehnquist's conservative and occasionally counter-revolutionary jurisprudence. Think about this: for the next seven or so presidential terms, SCOTUS will be "the Roberts Court." This is not something progressives should minimize according to tactical considerations of the nomination in this moment's political struggles.

I do agree that the next presidential nomination to replace Justice O'Connor is even bigger in terms of shaping the future Court. And I don't think Democrats should be forced to walk the plank to oppose or filibuster Roberts, who will probably get universal support from Senate Republicans.

But given this nominee's enduring significance; the Bush administration's clear right-wing judicial-activist intentions; and the need to make it abundantly clear that the next nominee, if he or she is to the right of O'Conner, will face obstruction sho nuff--a robust Democratic vote against Roberts would be a very good thing.
-- Posted at 6:14 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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