– Judge Smails (Ted Knight), Caddyshack, 1980
Conservatives such as myself voted for President Bush for several reasons in 2004, primary among which were the Global War on Terror, tax cuts and restraint of the Federal judiciary via conservative appointments. In regards to the first two issues, I believe the President to be keeping true to his base of support. We may not always agree with the precise manner in which the GWoT is being pursued, but overall, Bush seems to be doing a far better job than most of his predecessors and contemporaries and his tax cuts appear to have been just the right medicine to get the economy back on track. On the third issue, Bush has been solid insofar as nominees for the Federal Circuit bench vacancies, appointing many good conservative jurists to Appeals seats. Then came the resignation of Sandra Day O’Connor from the SCoTUS.
While many of us were left fuming in the wake of the “Gang of 14” deal to prevent the invocation of the “nuclear option” (thanks, Trent Lott), few, myself included, blamed President Bush for The Deal. I viewed it largely as a McCanian Machination: a course of action so obsessed with personal puffery, press impressions, collegiality, comity and self-congratulation as to make even the most well-versed political hands nauseous. I can easily chalk it up to the egos of 7 Republican Senators and can let it slide because of that. What I can’t let slide is Bush’s apparent obsession with nominating Alberto Gonzales to the Supreme Court. Such a decision would appear to go far beyond cronyism and well into Conflict of Interest Territory.
It’s been known in political circles for a while that the President really, really wants to put his good pal from Texas on the Supreme Court. This idea has chilled the spine of many committed conservatives who threw their support behind Bush at multiple points because he claimed to want “originalists in the mold of Thomas and Scalia”. Gonzales, by all appearances, doesn’t come anywhere close to that standard.
Things might have been different had events played out the way I think the White House was planning for, namely: Rehnquist departing first followed by an O’Connor resignation. Bush could then have placed an originalist/strict constructionist/social conservative before the Senate, thus mollifying conservatives and then named Gonzales to replace O’Connor, thus, in the view of “fair-minded” Americans retaining the status quo or “balance” of the Court. This, at least, is serving as the conventional wisdom for the time being.
I, however, read it a bit differently. I think he may well nominate Gonzales to replace O’Connor now. His recent statements asking conservative groups to “cool it” are being looked at by many in the sphere of political punditry as damage control by the White House and many on the Right are rather incensed. However, I think the most important portion of the linked article has received very little attention:
In his first response to questions about the vacancy since O’Connor’s surprise announcement Friday, Bush said he won’t rush a decision but wants her successor to be on the bench when the Supreme Court resumes work in October.
He said he’s considering â€” “a good-sized” number of prospects. “I will begin to hone in on a handful of candidates over the course of the next few weeks,” he said. Then, he said, he will interview them himself.
These statements, coupled with statements Orin Hatch made on Sean Hannity’s show yesterday lead me to the following conclusion: I think the President may spend his summer anxiously attempting a reputation rehab on Gonzales.
Indications are that staff expected Bush to almost immediately appoint a successor to Rehnquist and this “Let’s take a few weeks to mull this one over” approach has caught a few White House staff off-guard. I think that Bush and his conservative allies in the Senate are going to spend the summer trying to appeal to the dedicated conservatives out there to either throw their support behind Gonzales or at least agree to not punish the Republican Party as a whole during the midterm elections. I think Bush is going to pull a passive-aggressive Judge Smails with the conservatives acting as a collective Spaulding. “I want an originalist, no a strict constructionist! I want a social conservative! I want someone who will faithfully interpret, rather than add to our Constitution!” “You’ll get Gonzales, and like it!”
I, for one, won’t be fooled. If Bush tries this ploy, not one red cent of mine will ever grace the GOP’s coffers and I’ll work to make sure the same goes for friends, families, casual acquaintances, etc.
Here’s to hoping that I’m wrong.