President Bush is confronted with a historic opportunity in naming a new successor to the Supreme Court Associate Justice seat held by Sandra Day O’Conner, but one wonders whether or not he will avail himself of the promises made in 2000 and 2004 to name someone reflective of a conservative philosophy to the court in place of O’Conner.
Failing his first two tests of presidential leadership concerning reconfiguarion of the judiciary by forwarding John Roberts as chief justice rather than a dependable stalwart like Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia, and in failing to back the Republican party in the Senate when they pondered the Nuclear option, Bush must carefully consider his next appointment, lest he completely alienate the base that has carried him and the Republican party to their electoral success.
While the hard left would openly rally to challenge a conservative nominee, there is a greater substantive risk in abandoning the hard right for the Republican party– Bush and companions have never counted on the backing of Planned Parenthood members, NARALites, or ACLU members at election time. They cannot win without the likes of Focus on the Family, Operation Rescue, and think tank backing from places like the Heritage Foundation mobilizing voters and creating issues for electoral fodder.
Conservatives have carried their electoral pre-eminence to every level of American government that can be reached by the ballot box- 10 consecutive Republican Congresses, and a 7-3 advantage in the last 10 presidential elections. At the state level, Republican govenorships are at an unprecidented level, and Republicans control more state legislative bodies outright than the Democrats. It is difficult to overstate how thorough the victories of the Republican party have been over the last 10 years in particular, as it broke through historical lethargy that had previously religated it to what was seemingly indefinite minority party status in legislative bodies.
What has mobilized voters to vote Republican? Social issues are a key factor– school prayer, abortion, special rights for minorities [affirmative action, homosexual entitlements], and a myriad of unpopular Court decisions that have expressed an animus to the way of life of middle-America. To these people, the Supreme Court hasn’t been a neutral force in forty years– it has engaged in a systematic assault upon the core values of the American people– and now they expect the President they took to the White House to do something to correct this situation. They will be naturally wary- they remember David Souter all-too well, and are antsy about John Roberts as a second coming of the trojan liberal.
How serious are both ends of the spectrum about the coming battle? It promises to dwarf the $35 million spent in advocacy concerning the Roberts nomination, with some estimates coming in closer to the $100 million mark. Phone banks and national contact drives are already being planned logistically by both the Right and the Left; lists of nominees are being vetted privately by every major organization on each side of the spectrum, and everyone is ready for a fight. Even this correspondent has waded into the fray with a private donation for advocacy– something it is hard to get an evil money-grubbing Conservative to do willingly.
For many, this is bigger than 2000 or 2004. These are rarer opportunities than Presidential elections, and have consequences that last decades without opportunity to revisit decisions. As both sides prepare for battle, the question remains if this is a conservative Midway or the culture war’s Stalingrad.