Friday, September 23, 2005

Filibuster this! -- Democrats prepare for the next Supreme Court battle

John Roberts has passed smoothly -- five Democratic dissenters notwithstanding -- through the Senate Judiciary Committee and he will soon be confirmed as the next chief justice of the United States. But this was just Roberts for Rehnquist, a conservative for a conservative, a non-ideologue (more or less) for a non-ideologue (so it seems). Democrats put up mild resistance, but they didn't really challenge Roberts on anything but his unwillingness to answer questions and his frustrating ability to evade their meek challenges.

Look for the battle over Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement to be far more intense, however, with Democrats opposing any nominee to the right of the center-right O'Connor -- which, aside from Gonzales, would likely be anyone Bush nominates. And that battle, it seems, will begin soon:

Republicans and Democrats warned President Bush yesterday that his next pick for the Supreme Court will face much tougher scrutiny in the Senate, as Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter lobbied the White House to delay the nomination until next year to defuse tension.

But the White House pushed ahead with plans to nominate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's successor as early as the middle of next week from a shortlist that has been expanded beyond the field of candidates examined before the nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. to be chief justice and that includes several women and minorities, according to White House and Republican officials. First lady Laura Bush and a number of Republican senators are among those lobbying the president to nominate a woman or a minority, GOP officials said.

Whatever the nominee's sex or ethnicity, a Republican in close contact with the White House said the choice would be as conservative as Roberts.

After a morning briefing with Bush and top Senate leaders, Specter (R-Pa.) said he told the president he should postpone the announcement so senators have a better idea of how Roberts would influence the Supreme Court as chief justice over the next six months. Lawmakers say they expect Roberts to be confirmed easily next week. "I believe the next nomination is going to be a great deal more contentious than the Roberts nomination," Specter told reporters. "I say that because bubbling just below the surface was a lot of frustration in the hearing that we just concluded."

But the White House rejected the idea of delaying the next selection. Instead, a top White House aide said Bush plans to announce O'Connor's replacement next week, shortly after the Senate votes on Roberts's confirmation.

And it seems that the filibuster has resurfaced, with prominent Democrats threatening to use it should they choose to block Bush's next nominee:

President Bush’s nominee to the Supreme Court to replace Sandra Day O’Connor appeared to be skating on thin ice Wednesday, even though the president hasn’t yet revealed who the nominee is.

In the war of nerves leading up to Bush's announcement of his next high court nominee, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and other Democrats were signaling Wednesday that the filibuster — extended debate in order to kill a nomination — is an option they might use.

Referring to chief justice nominee John Roberts, who looks certain to win Judiciary Committee approval on Thursday and confirmation by the full Senate next week, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. said, "I don’t think anybody would call him an extremist, or a divisive or confrontational nominee. But if the next nominee is, I think there’d be a real possibility of a filibuster."

Lieberman said Roberts was "a mainstream nominee. But because of the focus on the balance on the court and Justice O’Connor being a mainstream conservative, if the next nominee is not a mainstream conservative, then a filibuster is definitely possible."

Lieberman was one of 14 Democratic and Republican senators who signed a May 23 accord in which they pledged to not support a filibuster of a judicial nominee unless there were "extraordinary circumstances" which made it impossible to approve the nominee.

Lieberman said Wednesday that under the terms of that accord, "we reserved the right for each of us to make the determination individually to decide that a nominee was outside of the mainstream, the circumstances were extraordinary, and therefore we would attempt to require 60 votes for confirmation."

Way to go, Joe. We need all the Joementum you've got.

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