Republican presidents have had less success in naming reliably conservative jurists to the court. Dwight Eisenhower would come to regard Earl Warren as the "biggest damned-fool mistake I ever made." Gerald Ford, a moderate Republican, nominated now-retiring John Paul Stevens, who held a liberal view of constitutional language. The sainted (for conservatives) Ronald Reagan gave the country Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy. O'Connor was the swing vote on cases that might have rolled back Roe, which came to stand for abortion on demand, but she declined to do so. Same with Kennedy, who became more concerned with precedent rather than a case wrongly decided.
George H.W. Bush nominated David Souter after being assured by his chief of staff and Souter's fellow New Hampshireman, John Sununu, that he was reliably conservative. Souter turned out to be as liberal on many important issues as Justice Stevens.
The problem for more than half a century has been whether members of the Supreme Court see themselves as faithful interpreters of what the Founders intended, or judicial freelancers with the power to create law, claiming it was what the Founders intended, or worse, believing that it doesn't matter what the Founders intended, which is where liberal judges have brought us. Too many modern jurists behave like constitutional gods, handing down commandments as if from Mt. Sinai.
President Obama shares this liberal view of the Constitution, so it is unlikely he will name a moderate, much less a conservative, to the court. In his book "The Audacity of Hope," Obama devotes an entire chapter to his view of the Constitution. To him its language is not fixed, but fluid and thus open to subjective interpretation by presidents and judges. Obama thinks free speech, to take one example, requires a different interpretation in the Internet age than it did in the 18th century, and besides, he writes, the Founders profoundly disagreed on many issues. Yes, but they agreed on the language of the Constitution.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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