Saturday, July 02, 2005

O'Connor Day

It's "all SCOTUS, all the time" in the major papers today. Here's a quick run-down of the coverage; I'll post again later on of the 'other' stories that get some recognition today. As I guessed, however, the Court fight has basically sucked the oxygen right out of the political atmosphere.

The Washington Post leads off with a Peter Baker rundown of the retirement anouncement, while Charles Babington and Mike Allen examine the different dynamic from the O'Connor departure than we would have seen had the Chief Justice been the one to retire. In an analysis, Dan Balz writes "The choice ahead for Bush in selecting a successor to O'Connor may prove to be the most important domestic decision of his presidency, given its potential impact on abortion and other issues and rivaling Iraq in its ability to split the country." Charles Lane offers up a lengthy retrospective of O'Connor as the Court's first female justice, and as the key swing vote on many vital constitutional issues that have come before the Court during her tenure; in a separate analysis, David Von Drehle examines O'Connor's pivotal role in the abortion debate.

Over in the New York Times, Richard Stevenson covers the announcement, with Linda Greenhouse providing the analysis, and Anne Kornblut discusses the timing of O'Connor's farewell. Robin Toner looks at the immediate response from interest groups from all corners of the ideological spectrum once the announcement was made public, Neil Lewis profiles the "short list" of possible replacements, and Doug Jehl covers the president's reaction to O'Connor's letter of retirement. Carl Hulse looks at how the Senate is preparing for the upcoming confirmation process.

From the LA Times, David Savage has the story, Peter Wallsten and Richard Schmidt discuss the variables that must go into Bush's choice for the successor, and Nicole Gaouette writes the retrospective. Henry Weinstein examines O'Connor's "one case at a time" jurisprudential philosophy; Maura Reynolds and Mary Curtius check out the Senate; Ron Brownstein analyzes the big changes that could come to America's political landscape, and Tom Hamburger highlights the lobbying efforts of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Assocation of Manufacturers.

Of course the editorial boards weigh in as well: the Washington Post uses the "O'Connor Court" mantra, and has some good lines to think about as we move forward with this:

"... her departure will leave a dramatic hole and a no less dramatic opportunity for a new justice to nudge the court in a different direction across a significant array of hot-button issues. President Bush's coming choice may therefore prompt an ugly political fight. No sooner had Justice O'Connor announced her retirement than the distasteful jockeying among any number of interest groups began: conservative groups demanding satisfaction; liberal groups pretending they get to dictate the president's choice. Everyone should take a deep breath.

Mr. Bush ran for and won election as a conservative who would name justices who share his philosophy, and he can be expected to name a conservative in this case. In doing so, however, Mr. Bush needs to bear in mind the fractious state of American politics and the capacity of a divisive nominee to trigger an all-out war that would hurt the court and the country as a whole. The president should consult as broadly as possible and seek a nominee who would satisfy his requirements while also garnering broad support from moderates of both parties. It is not too much to ask of Mr. Bush that he work for consensus in replacing a justice who, in a very real sense, had come to represent a bridge between left and right."

The New York Times agrees, writing in part "... it would be a shame for the combatants to come out swinging before Americans had a chance to reflect on the career and contribution of the woman who is leaving the bench. In fact, the more time we spend thinking about this sensible, pragmatic jurist, the better. Perhaps it will convince President Bush that he can best serve the country, and his own party, by nominating a new justice with the same values."

... Mr. Bush should ask himself whether Americans want to live in a country where the handicapped cannot find a champion in the law, where women are stripped of all abortion rights, where universities are barred from offering a hand up to deserving minority students. Then he should ask himself how much of his own party's current success has been due to Justice O'Connor's ability to save the right wing from the worst consequences of its extremism.

If he is thinking clearly, the president will understand how much he owes this quiet jurist who consistently looked for common ground. Perhaps he will also realize that the best way to repay the debt is to choose a replacement from the same mold."

The LA Times takes the twin editorials approach: one on O'Connor's legacy, and one on President Bush's challenge in picking a replacement.

Of course the columnists also weigh in: E.J. Dionne calls O'Connor "a practical voice for partisan times," and Senator John Cornyn in the Washington Post discusses the (probably) brutal confirmation fight to come. He writes of his "concern" that whoever the president chooses will be treated unfairly by Senate Democrats, concluding "While I am confident that the nominee to replace Justice O'Connor will be an able jurist, I am less confident in the treatment he or she will receive from the president's opponents." Slate's Dahlia Lithwick, writing in the New York Times, says O'Connor "has showed us that she could be more than just another justice on the court. She modeled fearlessness for those of us who still feel law is a man's game. And she showed us that greatness can be achieved by rolling up the sleeves of your black robe, and doing justice, one small case at a time."

This is only the beginnings, and I'm certainly not going to be able to cover every single O'Connor/SCOTUS/nomination story that hits the media. But I'll do my best on the high points. These are pretty interesting ones, particularly Dan Balz' analysis in the WaPo and that of Ron Brownstein in the LAT.


At 11:37 AM, Blogger cakreiz said...

It's a function of at least two things, jbd. Too many round-the-clock news outlets needing new stories and the SCOTUS becoming The Super Legislature for US social policy. The Far Right wants to impose its agenda judicially- as does the Far Left. That way, they can both bypass the sticky wicket of letting the majority self-govern. It's a bad trend.

At 11:41 AM, Blogger JBD said...

Interesting point, cakreiz - makes sense to me!

At 2:09 PM, Blogger "A Brown" said...

I agree with your analysis Cakreiz, but I think the political polarization of the Court goes farther back than you imply. There has always been an element of political ideology in the Court’s decision-making process and its role as a so called “super legislature” goes back to at least 1803, with Marbury v. Madison. However, elected officials focused on the qualifications of the nominees, mostly looking beyond the political ideology of potential justice. Because of the combination of tradition, the then heterogeneous nature of the political parties, and the unpredictable nature of a justice’s career, officials took pains to keep politics out of the third branch (with some notable exceptions such as the impeachment of Samuel Chase or Jackson’s reaction to Worcester v. Georgia). For example, it was Hoover who put Cardozo on the bench. It was in the 1930’s that this changed. During that time, much of the Court saw itself as the nation’s only “defense” against the New Deal, and they acted accordingly. In response, Roosevelt attempted to enact his Court packing plan. From that point forward, it became increasingly acceptable for political groups to use the Court as a battleground. In 1968, Nixon openly campaigned on a platform of putting political pressure on the Court and the Regan Administration chose to make judicial nominees the premier battleground for the culture wars. The Court itself is still somewhat resistant to political pressure (seven of the nine judges are or will be appointed by Republicans but the court is almost perfectly divided between liberals and conservatives) but even that tradition is starting to erode if Bush v. Gore is any indication.

At 5:09 PM, Blogger cakreiz said...

Excellent points. FDR's court packing scheme was a bold attempt to shape national policy through the judiciary- its focus was on economic policies rather than social ones. FDR finally got a majority to broadly interpret the Commerce Clause- freeing up his New Deal vision. [Didn't realize Cardozo was a Hoover appointee; ironically, as a minority voter, he supported Roosevelt's early New Deal efforts. Ya never know with these guys!]

And you're also right about the Nixon-led reaction to the Warren Ct. As I recall, Nixon's focus was on crime- Miranda, Escabedo, etc. In terms of social policy, the cardinal point of polarization was Roe. It's been crazy ever since.

At 8:57 PM, Blogger cakreiz said...

a_brown.. the more I ponder the Warren Court, the more I think you're right about its controversial handling of MANY social issues, not just crime related. The Warren Court, among many other things, banned school prayer in 62 & desegregated schools in Brown. By 1968, George Wallace was talking about pointed headed judges and Nixon developed his southern strategy. My bad.


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