High Court rulings a GOP boon

Donald Lambro
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Posted: Jul 03, 2006 12:01 AM
High Court rulings a GOP boon

WASHINGTON -- The latest Supreme Court rulings on the death penalty, campaign financing and congressional redistricting were not only victories for good government, but for President Bush's fight to turn the judiciary in a rightward direction.

If Bush's conservative base, which has been dispirited and divided over the last year, needed to be reminded what he has done for them lately, last week's rulings gave them their answer in abundance.

With conservative Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito added to the bench, the High Court last week handed down a string of decisions that had Bush's allies cheering and his liberal foes increasingly depressed over their declining power in American politics.

The court's 7-2 ruling in favor of Texas' bold redistricting plan (with the exception of a 5-4 ruling on a minority-leaning district that it said violated the Voting Rights Act), was a strategic victory for the GOP and especially former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who crafted the map-changes that sent four more Republicans to Congress.

While the ruling still left questions about the always-contentious battles over redistricting, there is now no doubt that the states have been given the green light to redraw congressional district boundaries to their political advantage any time they choose, and not wait for the 10-year census report on population shifts.

DeLay may be gone from Congress, brought down by a specious and politically motivated indictment related to the redistricting plan, but he has left behind an institutional victory that strengthened the GOP's control of the House -- possibly for many years to come.

Bush helped to cement that victory by nominating conservative jurists to the court who upheld the bulk of the redistricting plan.

Earlier, the court struck down Vermont's draconian, anti-free speech restrictions on campaign contributions, which limit donors to a maximum of $400 to candidates for statewide office.

The ruling no doubt will lead to numerous challenges to flush out what exactly is too much, and whether people should be free to give what they want to the politicians they like. Even so, it was a fresh and needed blow against those who seek to use "campaign reform" to take away what freedoms we still have to support candidates of our choice, free from government encumbrances.

And it will likely encourage renewed challenges to the McCain-Feingold reforms, particularly the restrictions on financing campaign ads in the final weeks of an election, which are among that law's worst assaults on freedom of speech.

Perhaps this surprisingly strong 6-3 ruling will also lead to reopening the arguments in the court's 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, which upheld government-imposed limits on campaign contributions.

Whatever follows this ruling, it was clearly "a setback for reformers who were hoping to expand what the government could regulate," campaign finance attorney Jan Baran told The Washington Post. "This is the first time the Supreme Court has struck down a contribution -- on the grounds that it was too low." Stay tuned.

The court also revisited the death penalty issue, which has been under assault in recent years, despite a majority of Americans who believe that the ultimate punishment is needed for the most heinous of crimes.

In another narrow 5-4 decision (which reminds us how different the court's rulings would be if Bush had not been re-elected), the majority upheld the death penalty law in Kansas.

The state Supreme Court struck down the law in 2004, ruling that it was unconstitutional because jurors were required to impose the death sentence whenever there was a close decision between "aggravating" factors deserving the ultimate penalty and "mitigating" facts that supported a life sentence.

Kansas appealed that decision and in the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas ruled that the law "does not interfere, in a constitutionally significant way, with a jury's ability to give independent weight to evidence offered in mitigation."

The likely political dividends from these very high visibility rulings will no doubt energize the GOP's ground forces in preparation for the midterm election battles to come in the fall.

Certainly, Bush has been on a political roll in the past month, what with the killing of arch-terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the strengthening of the newly united Iraqi government, and reports from military advisers that is a slow, cautious troop withdrawal will likely begin before year's end as Iraqi security forces grow stronger and more capable.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that the Republicans now have a seven-point advantage (up from a five-point deficit) over the Democrats when Americans are asked who is better able to deal with the terrorists.

There is also much less pessimism about the conduct of the war, the polls finds. Americans are now split evenly on whether progress is being made in Iraq.

None of this is a guarantee that Bush and his party are going to keep the Democrats at bay in November. But the president and his party are moving the ball down field and putting scores on the board -- and it's only the first quarter.