Friday, January 23, 2009

Craziest Conservative of the Day: J. Harvie Wilkinson III

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I quote Chait, who quotes Wilkinson:

In today's Washington Post, conservative judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III appeals for an ideological truce in appointments that just happens to coincide with the exact moment Democrats have retaken the nominating power:

So the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit is set for a takeover. Popular commentary has it that the court, on which I serve, is a fortress or bastion or citadel of conservatism. Discussion of coming changes suggests more the fruits of a successful military campaign than the result of an election giving our new president the right to nominate members to a judicial body. ... With the new numbers in the Senate, the temptation is there to go for an ideological makeover. Yet the tempting course would prove a misguided one.

If you're wondering whether Wilkinson wrote a similar op-ed at the start of, or any time during, the Bush administration, the answer is no, he didn't.

Wilkinson also writes, "ideology should not be the foremost criterion for selecting a judge. Many people may not believe it, but judges are not politicians in robes." Tell that to the five justices who decided to be Republican precinct captains in 2000.

Exactly. There are no partisan judges quite like conservative partisan judges, and Republicans, including Bush, have been all about appointing rigidly ideological and unabashedly partisan judges. What happened in 2000 was just the most prominent example of partisan conservative judicial activism.

Perhaps this isn't crazy so much as typical. As in, the typical conservative double standard: do one thing when in power, say the opposite when not. Coming out of this past presidential election, for example, many conservatives claimed that Obama did not have a mandate to govern other than from the center-right, and certainly not to enact liberal-progressive policies, despite his decisive victory over McCain and his decidedly liberal-progressive policy platform. Regardless of this victory, they claimed, America remains a "center-right" nation. And yet, back in 2004, following a much closer election, many conservatives claimed that Bush, in winning re-election, had a mandate to implement pretty much whatever he wanted, including social security reform, and not just a "center-right" agenda but, with the exception of immigration, a far-right one.

And here they are again -- one of them, anyway, a prominent member of theirs swollen judicial ranks -- arguing, in stark contrast to how they conducted themselves when Bush was president, that Obama and the Democrats should take ideology and partisanship out of the judicial appointment process, or, to put it another way, that Obama and the Democrats should not act like Bush and the Republicans.

How convenient indeed. Whether Wilkinson actually believes his newfound post-partisan rhetoric or not, that is, whether he can write drivel like this with a straight face, I'm not sure. Perhaps he really is that self-delusional and perhaps, enveloped in his own partisan bubble, he really is that cluelessly hypocritical. Whatever the case -- and as earnest and as focused on the common good as he wants us to believe he is -- he's crazy.

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