The Supreme Court

An opportunity for Bush—and a test

Conservatives are getting very nervous, said Robert Novak in the Chicago Sun-Times. The resignation of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has handed President Bush a truly historic opportunity to shape the nation's laws for decades to come. But his conservative base fears that he's leaning toward nominating Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales, a longtime Bush confidant, is not considered a reliable conservative vote on such key issues as abortion and affirmative action, which is why conservative groups have spent the past two weeks furiously shooting arrows at the White House's 'œGonzales trial balloons.' Bush was clearly peeved by that reaction, leaving the right nearly frantic with worry. 'œAl,' said the president, 'œis a great friend of mine,' adding, 'œWhen a friend gets attacked, I don't like it.' With the balance of power on the Supreme Court at stake, might Bush actually put personal loyalty ahead of principle?

Bush's Supreme Court choice will tell us a lot about him, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune. By far, the most critical issue facing the court is abortion, and Bush is now insisting that he will not make opposition to Roe v. Wade a 'œlitmus test' for his judicial picks. But for the past five years, he has been winking and nodding at his pro-life base, habitually invoking his desire to promote a 'culture of life,'' and insisting he'll appoint justices who are 'œstrict constructionists'—a judicial philosophy that precludes divining an unstated right to abortion in the Constitution. So far, Bush has managed to have it both ways, exploiting the zeal of the true believers while avoiding the political backlash that will come from a full-blown abortion battle. But now it's 'œput-up-or-shut-up time.'

The future of the Republican Party may hinge on Bush's selection, said Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. Social conservatives seem to believe the Supreme Court vacancy is, essentially, 'œtheir own—recompense for their support of George W. Bush.' But 63 percent of the American public doesn't want Roe overturned. If Bush caves in to the special-interest groups on the right, and appoints a justice hostile to abortion, privacy, and individual rights, he'll make the same mistake the Democrats made in their heyday. If the Supreme Court lurches to the right, the country may swing back to the Democrats in '06 and '08.

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Talk about wishful thinking, said Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard. Americans have elected a Republican president and Congress partly because they are weary of judges like O'Connor, who interpret the law to suit their own whims. Voters want the democratic process, not nine robed elitists in Washington, to decide whether abortion should be limited, gays should be allowed to marry, and the death penalty be meted out to the most heinous murderers. Liberals get frantic when Bush says he wants judges 'œwho will not use the bench to legislate.' That's because the left knows that much of its agenda—from preserving an unlimited 'œright' to an abortion to expunging all mention of God from public life—would not survive a democratic vote. Bush better not let us down, said John Leo in U.S. News & World Report. Americans have endured three decades of 'œjudge-made law,' with the Supreme Court turning itself into the most powerful branch of government. 'œWe need a modest and non-ideological justice who is determined not to impose his or her politics from the bench.'

Edward Lazarus

The Washington Post

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