Thursday, September 22, 2005

Rolling over for Roberts


USA Today reports that key Democrats will support the confirmation of John Roberts as next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. To which I must reiterate: Good move.

We've been around this tree before, but let's go over it again:

- In 2003, Senate Democrats voted unanimously to confirm Roberts to the US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit. Less than two years later those same Democrats are going to have some 'splaining to do if they deem him unacceptable. What has Roberts done in the last two years which would disqualify him from the bench?

- We can't assume that those Democrats who supported Roberts in 2003 have since learned something they didn't know then. Intense scrutiny of his record has yet to result in any kind of bona fide "oh shit" revelation.

- Roberts' record simply isn't bad by DC standards. It's not out of the ordinary, except to the extent that he has, to all appearances, done a routinely good job and has rapidly been promoted up the government service ladder. And, finally ...

- As I keep saying, past history is no indicator of future performance. We don't know what kind of Chief Justice John Roberts will be. We can't know what kind of Chief Justice John Roberts will be. Nobody expected Eisenhower appointee Earl Warren to be the creator of the "liberal" Court which handed down Brown v. Board of Education. Nobody expected former Ku Klux Klansman Hugo Black to become one of the Court's premier civil libertarians. Nobody expected Nixon appointee Harry Blackmun to become the architect of Roe v. Wade. And presumably nobody expected the current court, which (including the late Chief Justice Rehnquist) had a 7-2 Republican majority, to be the "liberal" court that "conservatives" perpetually bitch about.

Democrats supported Roberts before. They've dug up nothing since to discredit that decision. He's never publicly stepped on his own crank. And for all they -- or the Republicans, or we -- know he may turn out to be the next William O. Douglas.

Picking a fight on this appointment would be pure unmitigated stupidity. It would discredit future Democratic opposition to far worse nominees, and it might even be a direct, go to jail, do not pass Go, do not collect $200 failure if a filibuster was attempted and if the GOP successfully pulled out the "nuclear option." A collapse into obstructionism at this moment would weaken Democrats' ability to fight the appointment of Alberto "the Geneva Convention is quaint and obsolete" Gonzales, or even John "no king but Jesus" Ashcroft, to replace Sandra Day O'Connor.

That's why I'm glad to see only token Democratic opposition to Roberts. There will be future nominees, and Democrats will need all their ammunition to oppose the worst of them.

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