Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Now is Not the Time to Panic

Over the course of the long weekend, we learned that Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist passed away, followed by the announcement that formerly announced O'Connor replacement John Roberts has been asked to serve as the new Chief Justice. While I have spoken with many moderate-to-left-leaning friends who are understandably upset that this means that President Bush gets to pick not one, but two Supreme Court Justices in his efforts to bring the court further to the ideological right, not only is this announcement not surprising, but it's actually not such a bad thing.

Consider this: Rehnquist was already a conservative member of the Supreme Court. The only currently serving Justice who actually participated in Roe v. Wade, he voted against it at that time. Rehnquist has also generally voted against affirmative action when such cases have come before the court. Although the appointment of Roberts suggests that this tendency is likely to continue into the foreseeable future, it certainly does not represent any kind of shift further to the right.

Of course, Bush still has to name a replacement for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who will continue to serve until her replacement is in place. To some extent, the fact that Roberts is now the Rehnquist replacement means that we will continue to have O'Connor's more moderate position available for just a little while longer. But even here, O'Connor tended to lean more to the right, and a Bush appointment will not represent a dramatic shift away from the status quo, with the obvious exception of a couple of important issues.

In any event, the current situation is actually better than the one represented when only O'Connor was leaving, as it was all but certain that Rehnquist would not last through the remainder of Bush's second term of office, and a more conservative court was virtually guaranteed in the interim. And indeed, it is still possible that Bush may appoint a justice who will be more moderate than expected. If Bush is serious when he says that he will look for candidates who will interpret the constitution fairly, and doesn't actually seek the very kind of judicial activism that he himself claims to deplore (thereby proving that he thinks it's really okay if it comes from the right. It's that "liberal" activism that's bad.), then a balance of conservative and liberal views on the Supreme Court may yet be maintained.

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