Of course you’d expect me to claim the courts are too conservative. But Donald G. Savage, writing in the Los Angeles Times, points out that, “Ninety-four of the 162 active judges now on the U.S. Court of Appeals were chosen by Republican presidents. On 10 of the 13 circuit courts, Republican appointees have a clear majority. And, since 1976, at least seven of the nine seats on the U.S. Supreme Court have been filled by Republican appointees.”
So why should anyone care about President Bush’s ten beleaguered nominees? The difference is that no Republican administration prior to the younger Bush has been so evangelical. Even the strongly ideological and rabidly anti-communist Ronald Reagan–with Central American savagery and the Iran-Contra scandal to his credit–looks moderate next to Bush. As Ron Reagan (the former President’s son) put it, his father’s “Republican party, furthermore, seems a far cry from the current model, with its cringing obeisance to the religious Right and its kill-anything-that-moves attack instincts.” Jon Margolis wrote in the Chicago Tribune:
For a revolutionary, Reagan was a pragmatist who always governed more moderately than he orated. He called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” but adhered to the arms control treaties it signed and negotiated another. He proclaimed that “government is the problem” but did not reduce its size or impact. He pushed through the biggest tax cut in history in 1981, then quietly allowed his aides to negotiate a large tax increase in 1982. He assailed abortion but did nothing to alter its legal status. He signed an executive order to inventory public land for possible sale to private interests but signed several wilderness bills.
Not so, Bush:
His political heirs, led by Bush, are more consistent ideologues. Bush, who lost the popular vote in 2000, lacks the electoral mandate Reagan got with his 51 percent majority in 1980. But armed with the congressional dominance Reagan never had, Bush has pursued his conservative agenda with more single-minded fervor than Reagan did in his first term, or even after he won 59 percent of the vote and 49 states in 1984.
Bush has abrogated international treaties, launched a war opposed by important U.S. allies, started construction of the anti-missile system Reagan envisioned, cut taxes more often than Reagan and used his executive authority to weaken protections for workers and the environment. He has even proposed measures Reagan never dared espouse as president, such as semi-privatization of Medicare and Social Security.
Judges are appointed for life. Savage thinks these appointments won’t tip the balance much, but the motivations behind these nominations are much more strongly ideological, and they will act to preserve an existing imbalance.