Sunday, July 03, 2005

Preemptive Strike

The New York Times and Washington Post in Sunday editions both highlight conference calls among various arch-conservative groups over the weekend, the general aim of which was to express opposition to the possible nomination of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to the Supreme Court. The president is known to favor Gonzales for a seat on the Court, but social fundamentalists are convinced that the Attorney General and former Texas Supreme Court justice is not a "true believer."

The Times article, penned jointly by Todd Purdum, Adam Nagourney and David Kirkpatrick, reports on the various efforts undertaken by social fundamentalist leaders to "head off" a potential Gonzales nomination, which began long before Friday but got kicked up several notches after Justice O'Connor's retirement announcement. Here are some of the details:

- A 'conservative delegation' led by C. Boyden Gray and former A.G. Edwin Meese met with Bush chief of staff Andy Card "to warn that appointing Mr. Gonzales would splinter conservative support."

- Reverend Miguel Rivera of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, urged Bush to appoint federal appeals court judge Emilio Garza, who Rivera called "a true conservative Latino nominee."

- The Free Congress Foundation's Paul Weyrich said he told Administration officials that nominating Gonzales would cause a rift among conservative groups, with some opposing the appointment outright while "others like the Southern Baptists and myself would simply not help."

- National Review has editorialized already in opposition to Gonzales, saying "Conservatives would be appalled and demoralized by a Gonzales appointment."

- Phyllis Schlafly said "Bush was very clear, and certainly his constituents believed him, when he said he would appoint justices like Scalia and Thomas. We are not in favor of Gonzales."

The Post piece, written by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, adds a few more statements in opposition to Gonzales' nomination:

- Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family (Dobson's minions) said of the Attorney General "We would oppose him because we don't believe he has a philosophy that we can determine. We are not enthused. He is someone who is apparently still developing his philosophy, and that's not good enough."

- A thinly-veiled threat from Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions: "Conservative groups strongly believe that the president should just do what he promised to do. He was crystal clear on his vision of the appropriate qualities of a judge. He can't allow personal or short-term political factors to override his commitment." Gonzales is widely known as a personal friend and trusted advisor of Bush, and his confirmation would make him the first Hispanic justice on the Court.

As I wrote yesterday, I'm not going to preemptively endorse Gonzales as O'Connor's replacement; he's not even the nominee yet, and I can't see any useful purpose in suggesting his (or anyone else's) name: the president, hopefully in consultation with the leadership of the Senate and his advisors, will make that choice. Having said that, I think this outspoken conservative opposition to Gonzales gives President Bush an unprecendented opportunity to burnish his credibility with non-arch-conservatives. Nominating Gonzales in the face of all this flak from the right wing constituencies Bush has courted for so long would be seen as a very heartening step to many, if for no other reason than to prove that he doesn't always heed their harangues.

The conspiracy-minded among us might see all these statements from conservatives as a brilliant Rovian scheme to sneak Gonzales onto the Court as a 'centrist' when he is anything but. I don't think it's cooked up; I think the social fundamentalists really do view this moment as their chit, to be cashed in for a Scalia-mold jurist after years of supporting this president and his policies. Politically, that mattered very much to Bush prior to the 2004 election, but he will never need their votes again - will that free him to make a choice based on his own priorities, or does he too feel he still owes the right wing their pound of flesh?

Time, as they say, will tell.

[Update: Alan at The Yellow Line has a great post on this topic. Key paragraph: "But will Bush make a choice he knows will upset the far right? That would be a surprise. But, in my mind, a welcome one. A Gonzales nomination would be unpopular with the far right and the left, which is a pretty solid endorsement of the man’s mainstream principles. The best outcome of this nomination process would be for O’Connor to be replaced by someone with a similar practicality and aversion to judicial activism - both the liberal and conservative variety." Read the whole thing. -- 8:37 a.m.]


At 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff Sessions is proving that he is a left wing liberal like the Gang of 14.


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