Dwight Eisenhower came to regret the judicial activism of the chief justice he nominated. Ike called his choice of liberal California Republican Earl Warren "the biggest damn fool mistake" he ever made.
Richard Nixon nominated six justices to the bench. Two of them, Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell, were rejected by the Senate. Four - William Rehnquist, Warren Burger, Lewis Powell and Harry Blackmun - were confirmed.
While Blackmun, who authored Roe v. Wade, was in the activist mode of Earl Warren, Nixon's nomination of Rehnquist (and Ronald Reagan's elevation of him to become chief justice) was Nixon's greatest domestic legacy.
Rehnquist slowly, but eventually and effectively, moved the court not so much in his direction, but toward what the Founders had in mind when they wrote the Constitution. He single-handedly anchored the conservative wing of the court until reinforcements arrived. He had one of those qualities rare in today's Washington: the ability to hold strong convictions while maintaining good relations with those who held different views. John Roberts, who clerked for Rehnquist, apparently shares his demeanor.
With Roberts' nomination to the court already enjoying the announced support of several Democrat Senators, it will be difficult for them to oppose him for chief justice. The question now is: Should President Bush nominate an equally conservative person to the court to fill the remaining vacancy?
He should if he wishes to remain consistent to his often-proclaimed desire to have a court that makes decisions based on the Constitution and not the personal whims, prejudices and objectives of individual judges. No political doctrine has been stated and restated by President Bush as much as this one. To go against it now would be the political equivalent of the president denying his faith.
Bush gets it when it comes to ideology. Unlike his father who listened to top aides and gave the country the liberal disaster named David Souter, whom Senator Edward Kennedy now praises, Bush is not about to see his legacy tainted by someone who is a closet liberal.
The great temptation in Washington is to do things that please the social and journalistic elites. If you don't care about invitations to the "right" social events and you are unconcerned about whether those newspapers like you, then you can achieve true independence.
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