It is the moment we’ve been dreading — an opening on the Supreme Court, and an opportunity for Bush to push the Court further to the right. Sandra Day O’Connor, whom Phyllis Schlafly described as “a terrible disappointment,” has announced her retirement. Where the widely anticipated retirement of Chief Justice Rehnquist would allow Bush to replace a conservative with another conservative, O’Connor’s departure presents conservatives with an opportunity they’ve waited a decade for, and now, they’re squabbling. The New York Times is carrying a story on conservative opposition to a potential nomination of Alberto Gonzales, who recently survived unexpectedly tough opposition in his confirmation process for the position of Attorney General, but represents an unknown quantity in conservative litmus tests.
“Whatever else you say about President Bush, he is certainly the type of man who says what he means and means what he says,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group. “I also think it’s clear that the majority who elected him – and who elected 55 members of the Senate – is looking to him to fulfill that pledge. Just as President Clinton took the opportunity to name two very liberal judges, the president’s constituency will be looking to him to appoint a conservative jurist.”
It is a little too trite to say the stakes are huge. “Members of Congress and conservatives close to the White House said that they were confident that Mr. Bush would use the first Supreme Court vacancy of his tenure to nominate a judge in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, as he has repeatedly promised to do.” Judges are appointed for life, and “[e]ven at a time when they have unprecedented influence in the nation’s capital, many conservative leaders have become increasingly restive at their comparative lack of sway on the court and have described the selection of the next justice as the most important decision Mr. Bush will make – even if he has to force it through at the expense of his ambitious second-term agenda.”
The Washington Times focuses on those conservatives see as the barbarians on the gate, however, citing Karen Pearl, interim president of Planned Parenthood, saying the organization “has alerted 1 million of its supporters, trained 50,000 local leaders and mobilized more than 170 campus groups to rally against any Supreme Court nominee deemed weak on supporting reproductive rights.”
It will all land in the Senate Judiciary Committee, once again focusing attention on its chairman, Arlen Specter, who has “suggested that the Senate would have difficulty confirming judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade,” and whom the New York Times describes as “[a] rare centrist in a Senate that has shifted increasingly to the right[;] he is reviled by conservatives for dooming the nomination of Robert H. Bork, and by liberals for assuring the confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas with his aggressive questioning of Anita Hill, the law professor who had accused Justice Thomas of sexual harassment.”