All over but the shoutin’

LadyJusticeFrom the non-apocalyptic front in Supreme Court news, Ronald Brownstein writes in today’s Los Angeles Times:

In effect, Roberts may represent an effort to thread the needle in filling the court vacancy. The selection could offer Bush an opportunity to maximize his chance of a relatively smooth confirmation while minimizing the danger of either conservative disaffection or scorched-earth Democratic opposition.

As a former clerk to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, a legal official in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and a reliably conservative voice on the bench, Roberts is well-respected in Republican circles.

Conservative activists welcomed the nominee more enthusiastically than they would have Edith Brown Clement, the justice from the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals who, for part of Tuesday, was Bush’s rumored pick.

Roberts also has drawn high marks from experts in both parties for his qualifications, and may present a limited target for Democrats because he has written few decisions in his two years as a federal judge.

Ryan Lizza of The New Republic drills down to one religion angle in this nomination:

Finally, Bush did not slavishly reward his base of evangelical conservatives. Conservatives are describing Roberts as a “bold” choice. He is clearly not. Bush’s trademark, especially when it comes to his most high-profile personnel decisions, is to select hard-right nominees that spark polarizing debates and send Democrats into a spitting rage. He has done that with Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, John Bolton, and many of his lower court nominees. Considering the importance of the high court to his most rabid supporters, there was every reason to believe Bush would choose a more ideological conservative than Roberts. The more brass knuckles and base-pleasing Judge Michael Luttig apparently made it to the end of the sweepstakes, but was passed over for the more moderate, more even-tempered, and more easily confirmable Roberts. After 15 years of crying “No more Souters,” the religious right has been presented with someone whose views on many social issues are as mysterious to them as their judicial bête noir’s were in 1990.

. . . The only similar big decision this recalls is Bush’s needle-threading announcement on stem cells back in August 2001 when his political fortunes were sagging and moderate voices in the White House steered him towards a compromise position. As in that case, Bush seems to be getting everything he wants. He is nudging the Supreme Court to the right. He has a good chance of getting a smooth conformation process. He seems to have satisfied his evangelical base. He may even win some political capital to spend on the rest of his agenda. Maybe Bush will even learn that sometimes the politics of conciliation pay more dividends than the politics of confrontation. If so, then this would truly be a historic choice.

Photo credit: Justin T. Johnson, Washington.

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  • C. Wingate

    I find this commentary interesting because it doesn’t jibe at all with what I found on the judicial activism sites concerning his appellate appointment. These sites portray him as someone who has expressed consistently hard conservative views and who has no particular judicial record running contrary to them.

    Also, those who worry about the Patriot Act may not be too keen on a judge who upheld the decision in the “french fry” case.

  • ceejayoz

    As someone rather irritated by the Patriot Act, I’ve no problem with his decision in the french fry case.

    We generally oppose the Patriot Act because we believe it to be on shaky Constitutional grounds.

    The french fry act fell perfectly within Constitutional limits, and thus his decision was entirely accurate. He even mentioned in his decision that he felt it was an absurd law, but a valid one.

    Thus far, this liberal is okay with Roberts. I was expecting worse from someone who says his favorite justice is Thomas.

  • Stephen A.

    This is apparently not the nuclear war some blog owners had been expecting ;-)

    When even Sen. Byrd sings nice songs about you, you’re going to make it.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Isn’t it ironic that the heroes of the “Evangelical Right” including Falwell and Robertson- are all strong, “devout” Catholics::Scalia, Thomas, and now-possibly-Roberts. It is clear that on many social issues Catholics who take their Faith seriously and Evangelical Christians are far more soulmates than the vaunted ecumenical relationship we supposedly have with mainstream Protestants (a fast self-destructing breed anyway).

  • kendall Harmon

    Does the fact that Bush is filling Sandra Day O’Connor’s seat have anything to do with it? I should hope so.