The Left made it easy

Posted: Jul 20, 2005 12:00 AM

It looks as if all the interest groups and nattering nabobs outside the White House have conspired to make placing his first U.S. Supreme Court nominee on the bench really easy for President Bush.

 The Left certainly has done its part.

 For five years, Senate Democrats on the far left have hurled invectives at hot-button conservatives -- especially female and minority judges. They've only got so much mud left -- and they can't afford to waste it.

 Nonetheless, they will hurl more at Bush nominee John G. Roberts Jr. and waste it. It's the only play they know. quickly dismissed Roberts as a "right-wing lawyer and corporate lobbyist" who should not be confirmed. That's the best that they can do: Attack Roberts for being conservative and working for a D.C. law firm.

 Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal was reduced to complaining that she is "dismayed" Bush nominated a man and demanding that the Senate not confirm Roberts unless he promises not to overturn Roe v Wade.

 Push that line, and the White House can push back. Abortion rights' advocates want more than support for Roe -- they want a pledge to find that the U.S. Constitution reserves the right for 15-year-olds to get abortions behind their parents' backs. They will find little mainstream support for that position.

 Senate moderates cinched the Roberts nomination in May. That's when the so-called Gang of 14 -- seven GOP and seven Democratic senators -- announced that they would not go along with judicial filibusters -- which had stalled Bush nominee Priscilla Owens for four years. They promised to engage in this stalling tactic -- that prevents a full vote on a nominee -- only under "extraordinary circumstances."

 Translation: They will vote for a solid conservative who is not overly ideological.

 And here he is. The Legal Times' Stuart Taylor described Roberts as "a good bet to be the kind of judge we should all want to have -- all of us, that is, who are looking less for congenial ideologues than for professionals committed to impartial application of the law. If the Senate buries Roberts -- again -- it would be an outrage." Taylor wrote those words in 2002, when Bush was a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals. The Senate did bury Roberts again by preventing a Senate vote, just as they buried Roberts after President George H.W. Bush nominated him in 1992. In 2003, President George W. Bush nominated Roberts -- and the Senate finally confirmed him unanimously.

 If not one Democrat objected to Roberts two years ago, how can the Dems filibuster now?

 Conservative groups had threatened to walk away from President Bush if they didn't get a conservative judge. If Bush wouldn't do battle for them, they argued, then he wasn't worth electing.

 Bush was clever: He gave the Right a conservative, but -- barring unexpected news -- the activists won't get their battle. Roberts is known more for his brains than his ideas.

 The right-leaning Progress for America has pledged "an initial $18 million to combat dishonest attacks on Judge Roberts." But it's not clear that this pricey campaign is even necessary.

 No fight. No fun. So flashy conservative Ann Coulter complained that Bush picked "a Rorschach blot" and a "Souter in Roberts clothing." The more the far Right complains that he might be a centrist, the better Roberts looks.

 Besides, the more accurate description would be: He is a jurist who knows how to write laws from a conservative angle without using the loaded language. I read what I thought might be Roberts' most controversial decision: a decision that upheld government actions in a public-relations disaster of a case. As Roberts wrote, authorities handcuffed, searched and detained a 12-year-old girl "all for eating a single French fry on the (Washington) Metrorail station."

 Because Metro police cite adults but detain children, the girl's family sued, citing unequal treatment. Roberts wisely noted that the Constitution discriminates by age -- it lists minimum ages for members of Congress and the president -- and noted that while there is reason to object to discrimination based on old age, "the concern that the state not treat adults like children surely does not prevent it from treating children like children."

 "No one is happy about the events that led to this litigation," Roberts opened the opinion. But the law was not unconstitutional.

 The media helped, too. For months now, news shows and opinion writers have been mishandling the next-nominee story. There was the scoop that Chief Justice William Rehnquist will resign. No, he's staying. (And why not? His brain is sharp, and his will is strong.) It turns out that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was retiring.

 Pundits then were sure Bush would pick a Latino. He didn't. Bush will pick a woman. Laura Bush is pressuring him to do so. (As if.) And he didn't.

 Tuesday, the scoop was: Bush will pick Edith Brown Clement. Oops. Wrong.

 No, he'll pick Edith Jones. Oops. Wrong again.

 Then, John G. Roberts is the real nominee, really. And Bush looks brilliant for picking a conservative nominee who already passed through the Senate without a "no" vote. What Bush did was so obvious -- picking a popular conservative -- that everyone missed it.

 Because the prognosticators were so wrong, Bush looks brilliant.

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