What I Would Have Asked

Jeff Alworth

For reasons still obscure to me (though I know Kari was involved), I found myself, an hour and a half ago, on a conference call with a number of political luminaries.  We were discussing the John Roberts nomination (though I use "discuss" advisedly).  On the line were Senator Ted Kennedy, Joe Trippi, Ralph Neas of People for the American Way (a great site for judicial information), Chris Bowers of MyDD and CNN fame, and Armando of the Daily Kos Collective.

The function of the call was to rally the troops, though this case was a hard one to make.  Senator Kennedy gave the best argument: "No one is entitled to serve on the Supreme Court. You must interview for the job and win the support of the American people."  As bloggers, we rally the people (theoretically), and to put pressure on Roberts, the people rally their senators.  There was a prevailing sense, in my mind, anyway, that the Roberts nomination is going to sail through, and the call really seemed to serve as a way of understanding how to position ourselves for the O'Connor's nomination.  (I liveblogged the phone call at my newly-minted blog Low on the Hog, should you wish a blow-by-blow account.)

After long discourses from Kennedy (elequent and fairly direct--perhaps because they were so similar to the words he used today at the confirmation hearings), Neas, Armando, and Bowers, we finally got 18 minutes for questions.  I believe my inexperience served me poorly, for I had to wait for instructions from the operator about how to queue up for questions (if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, it's * 1).  Other, obviously more experienced bloggers, got in first. 

Two of the questions were pretty good--and expose the difficulty of rallying the troops to fight a judicial nominee.  From Matt of BOPNews came this dark rumination.  He asked Ralph Neas whether Clarence Thomas's answers were accurate and candid, and if not, why wouldn't we expect Roberts to be similarly evasive and inaccurate?  Neas confirmed that Thomas hadn't been perfectly honest, and sort of punted on why Roberts wouldn't do the same.  A second blogger, whose name I missed, said he thought that one of the main reasons the left hadn't energized the grassroots was because Dems had made no talk of filibuster.  Bingo.

I had a question written down, ready to ask should time and luck favor me.  Since it didn't, I'll transcribe it here:

"Hi, my name is Jeff Alworth, and I'm with Blue Oregon, a progressive blog about Oregon politics.  It's hard to motivate people with little influence in this process, but the one thing that can is connecting the candidates to specific issues.  In the fall session, the court plans to take up Oregon's Death With Dignity Act.  Every lower court has upheld the law, and Oregonians believe it's an issue of their rights and their state's right.  Do senators plan to use this case to discuss individual rights, and if not, how do Oregonians get their senators to ask about it?

What would you have asked?  They're going to continue this practice, so maybe I'll get a chance to ring in the next time.  Now I know the system--

  • Kelly Steele (unverified)

    The Democratic Party of Oregon launched a statewide radio campaign today, essentially calling out the Bush administration for refusing to release pertinent documents about John Roberts' political past.

    The problem with the Bush administration's stonewall on documents that have historically been made public during SCOTUS confirmations is one of credibility. Namely, they have none.

    Sen. Kennedy is spot on -- the presumption that anyone is entitled to lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court is severely flawed. With Judge Roberts, the impact of a misguided choice as Chief Justice of would be exacerbated immensely by his relative youth.

    Given Bush's record vis-a-vis the truth, releasing these documents is the only way to afford ANY credibility to this process.

    Listen to the message of Oregon Democrats.

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    Document release is an important point for the national Dems. But the more I reflect on this process, the more I feel like 1) there's very little we (liberal citizens, bloggers, Oregonians) can do to effect the process, and 2) even if there was something we could do--creating a Bork-like frenzy--there's no support from the national Dems to follow up on that frenzy. Moreover, even I'm not convinced Roberts is such a horrible compromise given the kinds of possibilities floating out there.

    Which brings us to this question: if we are in fact just positioning ourselves for nominee #2, what should we be doing with Roberts? The message on the conference call yesterday seemed to be to talk a lot about privacy, which polls well with conservatives and switches emphasis from Roe. Okay, fine, but doesn't talking about privacy seem a rather limited and impotent response? I think that's why the base is quiet on this one.

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    Roberts is, as we all know, going to be confirmed. It's a fine line between tough questioning appropriate to the office and whiny obstructionism, and my hope (hope!) is that the Dems will fall on the side of good questions. My view is that Roberts is not a bad choice, he is, at least, smart and thoughtful, not just a plug and crank ideaologue, and smart people when put on the court have a tendency to surprise the presidents that put them there.

    My other, less than popular view, is that all the abortion and privacy and Roe hand-wringing is just a big fat red herring. The key questions facing the court, now and in the future, involve federalism, technology, and constitutional originalism (which hits on privacy but is not exclusive to abortion). The Dems tunnel-vision focus on abortion makes them miss all the other important issues, and a party that can't see the big picture looks rather like a disgrace.

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    The Dems tunnel-vision focus on abortion makes them miss all the other important issues, and a party that can't see the big picture looks rather like a disgrace.

    I agree totally--though as a man, very quietly.

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