Monday, June 27, 2005

Is Gonzales Spanish for Souter?

Well, that's apparently what some Republicans think. See Slate's excellent review of eight of the top candidates for the Supreme Court -- with Rehnquist and/or O'Connor set to resign in the days or weeks to come. I don't have too much to add here, but see my recent post on the subject (which, yes, got a mention at The Guardian). Also see Jonathan Turley's thoughtful take at USA Today (here), plus other reviews of the leading candidates at USA Today (here) and the L.A. Times (here).

A friend of mine suggested today that this is similar to the recent papal election. Perhaps. There's already a lot of idle (and likely ill-informed) speculation out there, but no one's quite sure how Bush will handle his first Supreme Court nomination. Would he go with a conservative to replace Rehnquist? That would maintain the current balance on the Court. Would he nominate a new chief justice from the outside, or would he nominate a current justice, like Scalia? Obviously, that would also maintain the current balance, but Scalia is not without the stink of controversy, and Democrats could object fiercely. Would he break new ground and nominate a Latino, either Gonzales or Garza, to shore up more of the Latino vote for the Republicans (but also, with Gonzales, to contribute to his own legacy by appointing a trusted friend)? Would he go with a conservative to replace O'Connor? Given O'Connor's swing credentials, such a move could tip the balance significantly to the right. And two new conservative justices, such as Luttig and Roberts, along with Scalia as chief justice, would be a serious threat, in my view, to the very foundations of the liberal state in America. Finally, how are Democrats going to respond to Bush's picks? Will they stand united and filibuster with confidence, as they've done so far on Bolton, or will they cave in and give up on the Supreme Court for years and years to come?

Okay, so it's getting to be like the papal election -- to a point. For now, all I'll say is that seven of the eight candidates in the Slate piece are profoundly conservative, with Gonzales the lone exception. Perhaps we should expect nothing else from a president who is all about pandering to his right-wing base, just as we shouldn't have expected anything else but a conservative's victory in the conclave. Was Ratzinger a surprise? Hardly. Would either Luttig or Roberts be a surprise. Not at all.

This leaves me rooting for Gonzales... ouch, that was tough to write. Am I rooting for him? Well, maybe. On the one hand, his lack of experience could be a problem, but what worries me more is his long career of pro-Bush partisan hackery. He sucked up to Bush in Texas, and he's spent the past four-plus years, both as White House counsel and now as attorney general, sucking up to him in Washington. Perhaps a seat on the Supreme Court would unleash his independence, but I wonder if his political partisanship wouldn't continue to taint his legal opinions. On the other hand, the right has already come out against him. Robert Novak, duschbag extraordinaire, notes that Gonzales is opposed by "anti-abortion activists" and "organized conservative lawyers". (Hey, maybe Gonzales wouldn't be so bad, if we judge him by his enemies.) In addition, he suggests (rightly, I think) that "Senate Democrats may have expunged anti-Gonzales bile from their system and be willing to support somebody who is markedly less conservative than any other nominee".

Yes, Gonzales would likely face a relatively easy confirmation battle. Given Bush's current problems, that could be what gets him the nomination. (For now, that's what The Reaction is hoping for. Another Souter wouldn't be so bad, would it?)

Stay tuned.

(For more on this, with regular updates, see The Supreme Court Nomination Blog, from Goldstein & Howe.)

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