Monday :: Sep 5, 2005

What Does The Roberts' Switch Really Mean?

by Steve

Boy, he can sure move fast when it comes to judges, can't he?

Bush’s surprise this morning, when he shifted gears and put John Roberts up as Chief Justice for the late William Rehnquist is an act of political weakness and a miscalculation.

First, it is a sign of political weakness because Bush knew he couldn’t get Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas confirmed quickly as Chief Justice, especially after the damage he suffered by his pathetic inaction to Hurricane Katrina.

It is a political miscalculation because the White House assumes that with the vetting on Roberts underway, it will be easier to get him through the hopper than to bring in someone new or to push Scalia or Thomas through. It won’t. Democrats will be able to successfully argue, as they already are, that the level of disclosure and transparency in a nominee that is expected for a Chief Justice is higher than what the White House has shown so far on an Associate Justice. Democrats can now argue that they want full access to Roberts’ papers from both Reagan and the Bush I administrations, to fully explore what Roberts’ role was in Iran-Contra, and the pardons that Poppy issued on his way out the door. Democrats may also argue now, as Senator Kennedy is already doing, that they want to know who Bush will be nominating for the O’Connor seat before they act on the Chief Justice nomination of Roberts.

Secondly, conservatives will not be happy with this development, no matter what they say publicly, because they were counting on a Chief Justice Scalia and to a lesser degree a Chief Justice Thomas. Conservatives already had doubts about Roberts, and those doubts will increase now that they see that Bush has thrown in the towel on installing a true friend of the American Taliban as Chief Justice, and the James Dobsons of the political world will be worried now more than ever that Bush will make things even worse by putting up his buddy Alberto Gonzales for the O’Connor seat. Such a nomination may come around the time that Patrick Fitzgerald makes headlines with a rash of indictments that will submarine Gonzales for good.

Third, the math of this court is still interesting, in that O’Connor stays on the court until her successor is named. But therein lies the problem for Bush with Rehnquist’s death at the same time: if Democrats delay Roberts’ confirmation and even eventually stop him, how many reliable conservative votes does this court have in this session if Bush gambles everything on getting Roberts through and doesn’t succeed quickly?

Fourth, by naming just another white male now as Chief Justice, Bush will be under huge pressure to name a woman or minority for O’Connor’s slot. If he does, and such a nominee looks extremist compared to the person they are replacing (O’Connor), Bush will have no political capital to get that person confirmed, given his poll numbers and given what it will take now to get Roberts put through for the higher office of Chief Justice. If Bush doesn’t name a woman or a minority and goes for someone like Luttig or Wilkinson for the O’Connor slot, the GOP will mortally wound its outreach to women and minorities by trying to appease the American Taliban with a white male true believer.

All in all, I question the selection of Roberts and the political strategy behind it, and I think it speaks volumes about the political difficulties facing this White House.

Steve :: 10:41 AM :: Comments (34) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!