Roberts for Chief?

Jeff Alworth

This morning, the President upped the ante on John Roberts: now Bush wants him as Chief Justice.  Until this morning, most Democrats had kept their powder dry, taking a wait-and-see approach  to his nomination (here's Harry Reid, for example).  More liberal groups, like NARAL, opposed Roberts, but NARAL was likely to oppose any nomination Bush made.  Based on Roberts' impressive resume, his scant record as a judge, and the candidates Bush might have nominated (Janice Rogers Brown, anyone?), it was looking pretty evident that John Roberts was due to sail through confirmation hearings.

BandrBut what about Roberts as Chief Justice--is the calculation the same?  I'd argue the answer is no, for a few reasons.  The judicial reasons relate to those questions that were due to be raised anyway: is a man who has only served as judge for two years qualified to sit on the Supreme Court?  What does this lack of record conceal?  Those questions are obviously heightened for an incoming chief.  What's more, the stakes are very high.  Roberts is only fifty, and could remain Chief Justice for thirty years or more.  Once in, there's no getting him out.

There are some political concerns, here, too.  Bush apparently took the temperature of the Senate and decided Roberts was a shoo-in.  What does that mean about Bush's subsequent choice for O'Connor's replacement?  Because the difficulty of confirming a Chief Justice is obviously greater than for an associate, does this mean Bush will nominate someone to the far right, someone further right than he could have nominated for chief?  (I suspect it does, and the right seems to agree--they're already rallying forces against Alberto Gonzales.)  Roberts' nomination now must be taken in light of another nomination as well.  Would Senators vote differently if they knew that Bush had a Scalia clone planned for his next nomination?  If so, shouldn't they assume the worst?

In any case, I hope the confirmation hearings take on a new rigor.  Senators shouldn't give anyone a 30-year pass.  The new Chief Justice will help shape law in the United States for a generation.  Roberts might have been a passable associate justice, but Senators need to really dig around to discover whether he'll pass muster as chief.

  • Connie (unverified)

    Just an echo from Dkos: "Mr. President, you said Mike Brown was qualified to be head of FEMA. Did you use the same laser-like judgment in nominating Judge Roberts?"

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    Kudos to Connie for a fabulous post.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    Clean House in '06 and begin to impeach Executive AND Judiciary.

    Clean House in '06 and repeal every legislation, every order Dumbo signed.

    IMPEACH -- the Eraser on the ballot Pencil.

  • David English (unverified)

    This whole thing really irks me. Now with the death of the Chief Justice, he will appoint two new Supreme Court Justices. This is almost one third of court!

    I have to tell you, I am worried with as weak as the democrats are right now, I worry that Bush is going to get a free pass to ram these nominations through. If he does, it's going to spell disaster for our nation.

  • edison (unverified)

    I am struck by the cleverness of the Roberts nomination now more than ever. By making him the Chief Justice nominee, a political brouhaha is assured: Right vs. Left, Conservative vs. Progressive, Republican vs. Democrat; polarization at its finest! And in the melee, Iraq and Katrina will be relegated to below the fold, after the 2nd TV commercial on the 'news', no longer the lead stories as the administration once again redirects the fatigued attention of the people with talking points that deflect critical thought and even more impressively misdirect our attention. How Roveian!

  • Bailie (unverified)

    David, You say, I am worried with as weak as the democrats are right now"

    What is the reason for your statement? I think it is interesting. I am a Republican, but I don't particularly care for George Bush. But I have wondered how lopsided the election would have been if the Republicans would have fielded a strong candidate? Yet, he won with a larger margin than in 2000. To your comment, my perception is that the Democrat Party is the weakest it has been in my lifetime. Why?

    I had a few random thoughts as I read your statement, which may or may not be reality (mostly perceptions), but worth mentioning.

    1) The Democrat party is perceived as being anti-religion in a fairly religious country.

    2) The Democrat party is perceived as anti-business in a capitalistic society.

    3) The Democrat party is perceived to be very pro-union, while unions are at their lowest influence (less than 13%) in the last 50 years.

    4) The Democrat party is perceived to be pro gay marriage/relationships, while the majority of the country at this time is not in favor.

    5) The Democrat party is solidly behind mass transit to the extent of demonizing the private vehicle (especially SUVs).

    6) The Democrat party is perceived to be a party without solutions, only complaints e.g. Social Security.

    7) The Democrat party is quick to pick out their villains e.g. Newt, Rush, Pat Robertson, George Bush, Rove, WalMart, corporations, "Big oil" etc. and then hammer on them to no avail. But in the process look like losers.

    8) The Democrat party has cloaked itself in the look of immorality by aligning with artistic endeavors not accepted by the majority of Americans.

    9) The Democrat party is associated with the negative aspects of the welfare system

    I'm not saying that I agree with what is listed above, but these are contributory factors in the very weak Democrat party. I can't remember the numbers exactly, but something like 33 governors, 34 state legislatures as well as the President and U.S. Congress, are Republican. I don't think the Republicans are doing anything extraordinarily great, it just seems like the Democrat strategy is really lacking as well as the things they have hitched a ride.

  • LT (unverified)

    So, the Republic party has all the answers?

    For a couple of decades now, there have been people who tried to put down those who don't vote a straight Republican ticket by leaving off the last few letters of the name of the party of FDR and Harry Truman to let their disdain for those not in the great GOP.

    Fine. George Bush is a Republic, and Kerry is a Democrat. The majority party in DC under that reasoning is the Republic party, but in Oregon is Kate Brown the Senate Democrat leader or the Senate Democratic leader?

    How many people vote perception of the entire party and how many decide on the individual candidate? If it was all about party, why did so many in the 5th Cong. district vote for Bush and Hooley?

    My guess is lots of people are fed up with the antics of both major parties. They want solutions and specific proposals, not partisanship and generalities.

  • Bailie (unverified)

    LT says, "They want solutions and specific proposals, not partisanship and generalities."

    I think you are correct and that is why Newt, rightly or wrongly, changed the direction of politics for a time. The Democrats have been without "solutions" ever since and few "specific proposals". With all of the publicity about Social Security, what was the Democrat plan? The War in Iraq, what was the Democrat plan? Wasn't the vote 99-1 in the Senate? Hillary is still wanting more troops in Iraq. I still don't know what Kerry's plan is for Iraq. I do know (I think) that Pres. Clinton supported the war. The former Sec. of Defense William Cohen supported the effort.

    In education, NCLB was endorsed by Sen. Kennedy, but has been blasted at every chance by Democrats and NEA. Yet, what is the Democrat plan?

    The perception is that there are no plans from the Democrat Party, just hollow criticism. This may be correct or not, but perception is not helping the Democrat Party. But that is only my perception.

  • Ronda (unverified)

    "The perception is that there are no plans from the Democrat Party, just hollow criticism."

    Well there is one more thing.

    There is the perception that the only Democrat plan is more money, for everyting.

    Like Oregon Democrats?

    I suppose we do always ask for more.

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    Bailie's (sort of off topic) post deserves a longer reply, but for now can I just say: it's the Democratic party. I know that hardcore ideologues on the right have been offended by this fact for years, but buck up: thems the rules of grammar.

  • Bailie (unverified)

    Jeff, Purely an innocent mistake on my part, I apologize. No word games here.

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    Back to more important matters--your comments. All of the things you cite are true (the perceptions you identify), but lets be clear--literally billions have been spent creating those perceptions by GOP spinsters, candidates, am talk radio hosts, and FOX and other cable opinionheads. In some cases--particularly 1 and 6, the Dems have abetted the spinsters' argument. Of course, when you're down, all mistakes look exaggerated.

    What will be interesting is whether all these perceptions you describe will survive Katrina. What we saw--and what Dems have believed for over ten years--is that the populism of the GOP concealed a very dangerous, disengenuous, and mean-spirited campaign by the right to disenfranchize the populace they so (rhetorically) exalted. Their disinterest and incompetence in handling real disaster exposed the GOP's true loyalties.

    The Democratic Party has always been about the people, even when we've strayed from our mission. It's impossible to imagine a midcentury response to Katrina looking anything less than efficient, compassionate, and swift. You can't both hate the government, run campaigns on destroying it, and then, when you're in power, shift the blame once the very government you've wrecked has failed in its central duty. America watched, and now we'll see what the fallout will be.

  • McBAin (unverified)

    What I fear will get lost in the shuffle about John Roberts, is how Republican appointees, and even to some extent democratic appointees have widdled away the once expansive ability of Congress to regulate activity viz-a-vis the commerce clause.

    A boring discussion in the media and on talk radio it may be but, think of the devistating effect it could have on things like enforcement of many things that we hold dear. What would happen if we went back to Lochner Era conservatism on economic issues?

    With conservative talk show hosts calling everyone from Justice Souter to Justice Kennedy "liberal," it seems that they have won in part by making the issue about abortion.

    While I do support a woman's right to choose, let's not forget about the myriad of economic issues that are impacted by the court's decisions.

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    Roberts' renomination as Chief Justice has the same problems multiplied. We have not seen the full record, particularly his memos from the Solicitor General's office when he was working as an attorney for us... the American people. I for one would like to see what he was writing when he was working on my behalf.

    While it used to be that the Chief Justice's role was largely ministerial, I think Chief Justice Rehnquist elevated the importance of the position. In a fitting bit of irony, I think his former law clerk's petition to the Senate for the job should fall under more scrutiny as a result.

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