Thoughts of an American Centrist

Monday, July 25, 2005

Roberts needs to be Confirmed

For the love of all that is sacred and good about our Constitution, John Roberts must be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

The American Centrist maintains that President Bush pulled a Political Rabbit out of his Hat 'o Nominations last week with the nomination of John Roberts. The man is definitely a conservative of the old guard, but at the same time he has been described many times as affable, and not driven by ideology. He fits the President's judicial philosophy, but can still play nice with others.

I like that.

For those hoping that the President would nominate someone who hung Pat Robertson posters on his bedroom wall, this is still only a partial disappointment. Even though the man is not associated with the Christian Coalition, his "strict constructionist" philosophy may very well steer many decisions in their favor.

For those hoping that the President would nominate a moderate, or even a closet progressive to the bench, this was a wakeup call. This is a conservative president who has promised all along that he would nominate a conservative Justice. Given the circumstances, Judge Roberts seems to be as good as we're going to get. A hard-fought protracted battle on this nomination is simply a vituperative acknowledgement that some special interest groups deny the right of any solid conservative to serve on the Bench. That is an argument that I cannot respect.

Disrespect to the Office of the President
Protesting the Roberts nomination would be the height of disrespect to both the Office of the President, and to the Supreme Court itself. Eleven years ago, Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed without any serious objection, and she is much more of an ideologue than Roberts is. The president gets to choose who he (or she) wants to put on the Bench, and barring some disqualifying characteristic (see John Bolton), a President's nominee should pass. If John Kerry had won November's election, we would have seen a very different type of nominee who would have been met with just as much opposition from the opposite side of the political battle lines. But Kerry did not win, and the People for the American Way and the ACLU need to get used to that idea.

The Ideological Balance
As a Centrist, my biggest lament about this whole fiasco is that Sandra Day O'Connor, perhaps the greatest SCOTUS Justice of the 20th Century (a century that had a lot of good ones), is the one retiring. As far as the ideological balance is concerned, however, I think that this nomination may actually pull the court further to the center. "But Mr. Centrist," you say, "a moderate is being replaced by a conservative. How does that pull the court further to the center?" "Well," I reply, "the court was actually a hair to the left before O'Connor left."

In case you haven't noticed, the general makeup of SCOTUS decisions of late have trended left for the past 10 years. Issues such as church state separation, partial birth abortion, and the death penalty have all been decided with a progressive reading of the 'Tute. There is a reason for that; the court is currently composed of 4 liberals (Stevens, Souter, Breyer, and Ginsberg), and 3 conservatives (Scalia, Thomas, and Reinquist) with O'Connor and Kennedy in the center. A Roberts nomination will most likely move one centrist seat to the conservative side, so our mix would be 4:4:1. Add to the mix that O'Connor, though moderate, trended slightly conservative anyway, there is a slightly perceptible shift towards parity.

Not only would we now have an even balance of conservatives and liberals, the remaining moderate - Kennedy - has traditionally trended left, and has been one of the focal points of the recent conservative ire with the American Judical system. Hey, anyone who Tom Delay wants to impeach can't be all bad in my book!

So, is John Roberts a Conservative?
Of course, all this posturing on the Roberts nomination may be for naught. There is a disturbing trend for conservatives wherein conservative nominees "go all liberal" once they get on the bench. After all, how else can we get a SCOTUS where liberals out-number conservatives when 5 of the last 7 Presidents have been Republican? Two of those liberal members were appointed by Republican Presidents: Stevens by Ford, Souter by Bush I. Kennedy was supposed to be a reliable conservative voice on the court, but now he is center left (O'Connor's perfect balance). The late Harry Blackmun was supposed to be a Nixon conservative, but he ended up writing the Roe decision. The LA Times has an easy to read article about Conservative justices who end up liberal. Will John Roberts be the next Earl Warren?

Whatever the Case, Roberts deserves Confirmation
Whether John Roberts adds to the progressive majority on the court, or brings more balance as a conservative, time has yet to tell. Two things remain certain however. John Roberts is well qualified for the job, and he is the President's pick. By all that was envisioned by the founders when they drafted a nominating process, Roberts deserves his robe.

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