Ross Mackenzie

If you're just back from Jupiter or something, you might not have heard that Sandra O'Connor has told President Bush she'd like to retire from the Supreme Court. And even before the president has offered a name in replacement, those great engines Pro and Con were revving up.

We're talking here about vast sums of cash, war rooms boasting legions of myrmidons at banks of computers probing the leavings of even the remotest prospects for the minutest Sign of - what? In the old lingo of Soviet dialectics, the word was deviation from the ideological norm.

And so, we return to where we have been - with Robert Bork, with Clarence Thomas, with appellate court nominees almost too numerous to count during the past four years. Indeed, it reaches back still further - to the likes of Clement Haynsworth and William Rehnquist himself.

Chief Justice Rehnquist has not announced his retirement. But he suffers from thyroid cancer and its attendant treatments - and anyone who has experienced them knows only too well the tribute energy and fortitude must pay to radiation and chemotherapy. Not even Rehnquist can guess how long he can keep the court's pace. Likely he will have to give it up sooner rather than later.

If sooner, we may be revisiting the hour of his own confirmation hearings three decades ago - held generally in tandem with those for Lewis Powell. An inchoate leftist cohort roughed up Rehnquist; Powell glided across the goal line unscathed. An early Rehnquist retirement could give us dual nominations once more - and a reprise of 1971.

The intervening years have only escalated the rhetoric - and indeed the consequent war. For war, ideological war, is what we have here, and because it is a war for power it is war without stint or limit, war of the most vicious sort.

The Democrats and the American left are losing power in a number of their historic bastions. Most notably, they no longer possess Congress and the White House - though through unity in the face of a fractured opposition, and through deft exploitation of the system, they retain remarkable minority strength in the Senate. From there they fight fiercely to maintain their hold on the federal judiciary - their last redoubt.

Neither side - left or right - has a monopoly on goodness and virtue in this war, but in the battles over judicial nominees, the left is the consistent attacker.

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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