Monday, September 05, 2005

A New Chief Justice

With the passing of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, President Bush has a second nomination to the Supreme Court to make. Many people (myself among them) did anticipate Rehnquist's death and also anticipated that Bush would elevate Justice Scalia to the Chief Justice position.

However, the timing of Rehnquist's death, coupled with the resignation of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (she will remain until her successor is confirmed), apparently obviated that move. Today's
suprise
is who the President picked to replace Rehnquist.

WASHINGTON -- Moving swiftly, President Bush on Monday nominated John Roberts to succeed William H. Rehnquist as chief justice.

The move would promote to the Supreme Court's top job a man who currently is being considered as one of eight associate justices.

Naming Roberts for chief justice was about the only way to ensure all nine seats on the court are filled when it begins its next term Oct. 3.

The president still wants Roberts to be on the bench when the Supreme Court resumes its work on Oct. 3, the official said. That means Bush would have to find a new nominee for O'Connor's seat. She has offered to remain on the bench until a successor is seated.


The surprising thing is not that the President went outside of the Supreme Court for a Chief Justice (historically, most Chief Justices were not serving on the Supreme Court bench at the time of elevation), but that a man with only roughly two years experience as a judge has been nominated for that position.

The President has indicated he expects a quick confirmation vote, and he may very well get it, even though his nominee is amazingy inexperienced. Bush's decision is a canny one. He needs a ninth justice in place before the October opening session. Roberts has been touted as a "moderate," whatever that is, and so far, none of the Republicans in the Senate have given any indication of objecting to the nominee. Since the Republicans are the majority in the Senate, it would seem a foregone conclusion that his hearings will be short and sweet, and the vote for confirmation will be a foregone conclusion.

The White House has still to release documents from Roberts' tenure in the Reagan White House. No real excuse exists for the refusal, and certainly no legal basis exists for the refusal, yet the papers have not been forthcoming. Does this "moderate" have something to hide? Is it possible that his legal theories with respect to the Supreme Court and the US Constitution are far less "moderate" than the label suggest? It certainly looks that way.

The Democrats in the Senate initially indicated that they would probably roll over on this one. Protests from liberal groups, among them Pro-Choice groups, raised loud objections, so at least a few Senators on the Judiciary Committee are now demanding the earlier papers be released.

In my opinion, if the White House continues to refuse the release, then the Democrats ought to rip up the "agreement" reached with Republicans and they ought to filibuster the hell out of this nomination. If Senate Republicans dare use the "Nuclear Option," then they are on record for having closed out intelligent discussion of the qualifications for this highest position in the highest court of the land. And they can be saddled with that weight come November, 2006.

At this point, the Democrats have nothing to lose. I just wish they'd act like they recognized that fact.

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