Sunday, September 04, 2005

What's next for the Supreme Court?

I can't honestly see any reason to continue with the hearings on Judge Roberts until we see what's going to happen with the Rehnquist's seat. I think Katrina alone justified a delay in the hearings, but that was a toss-up.

With two seats to fill and urgent work needed on the recovery in the Gulf, there's every reason to delay the hearings. Roberts will serve for decades, and there's no excuse for rushing him to the bench. Neither is there any excuse for doing a half-assed job on the oversight of the recovery. Senate staff have more important work right now.

Eventually, there will be hearings for two justices. The question is, who will be number 2? Conventional wisdom says that Rehnquist's seat is less vital than O'Connor's because Rehnquist was a reliable conservative, and replacing him with another conservative leaves the balance in place.
The other factor is that Bush is weak right now. Katrina is hurting him politically, and without political capital to spend, he may not be able to force a conservative through. Moderate Republicans and conservatives from moderate states may not feel like fighting too hard for a hardliner. That means there may be a deal to be made.

Obviously, two openings leaves more opportunities for deals to be made. Maybe Roberts gets through only if the successor to Rehnquist is more moderate.

It also might mean that the successor to Rehnquist (whether or not a sitting justice is elevated to Chief or the successor goes straight into the Chief's seat) would be someone with an unambiguous record on key issues. A true moderate with an established record will be hard to fight about, meaning a big win for the White House and for the country.

That's not the Bush way, of course. How many Senators will stick their necks out on behalf of this sinking presidency?

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