Friday, July 01, 2005

Here Come the Judge(s)

Well, a little bit of a shock today from Sandra O'Connor, huh? I never much agreed with her, but you have to respect her for her independence and, of course, for changing the course of history as one of the most influential women in American government ever.

Naturally, we all thought it would be William Rehnquist, who is ill with thryoid cancer. Even the White House was taken off guard. But, Rehnquist will likely step down too, meaning that Bush will appoint two to the court this term.

In both cases, he'll be replacing conservatives, but O'Connor is a very famous "swing voter" and Rehnquist, though often forming an alliance with Scalia and Thomas, is his own man.

In all appointments made so far, the Bush administration has favored loyalty above all else. First, they favor loyalty to the administration and second, loyalty to conservatism. There will be big fights over these important appointments and compromises will be made, but... Bush is Bush and the opposition has spent 5 years practicing the art of caving in without admitting it. I'm not optimistic.

The one light I see is that for all of my disagreements with the Rehnquist court, I get the feeling it has handed down rulings that the nation can live with. Aside from on the extremes of either side, folks aren't looking for a massive change in the court's procedures and they certainly don't want to see the last 50-100 years of rulings radically overturned. It's often said that Presidents are surprised by how their justices rule, once confirmed. I'm not convinced by that, though. I doubt Bush the First is much surprised by Thomas. But, those who can win confirmation do tend to take tje job, and the court's impact on society, rather seriously. So, yes, we face two Bush appointments and yes, Bush tends to appoint pretty right wing types, but... don't necessarily panic. There's a momentum of history guiding the court that would be hard for even two new justices to halt or reverse.

There are also other ways of correcting unpopular court rulings, and they work. A more conservative court would, after all, pass on a lot of authority to states and local governments. This would lead to sharp regional divides in America, sharper than they are now. Conservative enclaves would become more so, liberal areas would become more liberal. It will be a rotten state of affairs, in a lot of ways, if you believe, as I do, that some sense of commonality in American life is important. But, it is a possibility.

I don't think it will come to that. As I said, I think that the nation, as a whole, has been comfortable with the court's rulings, with some exceptions and with some very tense moments, during the 20th century. I hope, and even believe, that the two justice who will be confirmed in the near future, will recognize that and not seek to radically alter American life. One thing that gives me hope here is that whoever is confirmed has also lived with all of those prior decisions and they're unlikely to be radically disaffected by them.

Now, for less weighty matters... an O'Connor replacement... a woman? Got to be. Really should be, right?


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