Friday, July 22, 2005

Mister Roberts in Love and War

I've had nothing to post about the Roberts nomination, which I find a little boring. Bush picked a white guy, which is a bit interesting I guess, but not all that surprising. The most amusing aspect of the Roberts nomination is probably his resemblance to J.R. Ewing. Henry Fonda he's not.
As Roberts approaches Senate hearings and seemingly inevitable confirmation he's going to be showered with a lot of love and threatened with war. If you want to feel the love in a decidedly creepy way, go no further than David Brooks. I'm not going to pick on Brooks anymore, except to observe his traditional tendency to make inferences on the basis of lifestyle choices like what neighborhood he chooses to live in and that he submitted a wedding notice to the New York Times. A lot of people see Roberts as a cipher (see below) but we've got plenty of better indications of his legal attitudes than this tripe.

As for the war, Left groups have hit the bricks with the predictable stuff, but I'm inclined to look elsewhere. I usually know better, but I couldn't help reading Ann Coulter's recent column on Roberts, since it was linked by the SCOTUS Nominations Blog. I knew I could depend on Coulter: she attacks the Roberts nomination as a conservative retreat. Her argument, as I gather it, is that Bush should have picked a bold and documented conservative vote rather than go with a respected jurist whose positions on various important issues are more unclear. She believes that because the GOP is politically dominant, Bush should just go for it, it being a judicial troglodyte of some stripe, rather than choose a safe unknown like Roberts.

Someone other than Coulter might notice that the Bush presidency, and the GOP government, is actually running into a lot of trouble. For a comparable situation, we can look back to Clinton's nominations of Ginsburg and Breyer. Rather than being a "reliable left-wing lunatic" as Coulter calls her, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was suggested to Clinton by Orrin Hatch, then ranking minority member of Judiciary, as was Breyer. As Orin Kerr points out, this might have been borne more of political necessity rather than a norm of consultation, but I'd hesitate to call someone suggested by Hatch an extremist. Of course, some elements of the Right are quick to castigate their own if they are suspected of ideological heterodoxy, so I guess Coulter is free to think Hatch is guilty of collusion if she likes. The rest of us on planet Earth can reasonably infer that if Hatch approved of the nominees they weren't outrageous candidates. We can also recall Brooks' claim in his column that "maintaining balance... never matters" to Democrats when they control the White House, belied by these consultation choices in the only two Democratic Supreme Court appointments since the Johnson administration.

On a tangent, I love the way Coulter repeatedly calls Souter "David Hackett Souter", following the three name standard used for assassins (John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, etc.) and insubordinate children.

For present purposes, the Clinton-Hatch example is more important as an illustration of what a president might do if they want to restabilize an embattled administration. In such a circumstance, the president might avoid controversy by nominating an easily confirmable respected centrist or stealth candidate like Roberts. If, as Coulter seems to acknowledge, the Republicans keep losing contests like the filibuster showdown (a claim I'd contest) or backing down from clear victories, it might be because they're not as politically well-placed as she suggests. This is especially true since the GOP includes many she would deem "turncoats" like Hatch (presumably), Arlen Specter and those in the Gang of 14 like McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner.

I believe that John Glover Roberts is more conservative than the hysterical Right fears. The best information I've seen so far on John Glover Roberts' legal views comes, in my opinion, from some of his memos written while staff in Reagan's White House counsel's office, presented and analyzed by the Washington Post today. We might also look at the positions he's represented before the high court.


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