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Roberts for SCOTUS: How Conservative is Conservative Enough?

Though many on the right are quite pleased with the nomination of Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court (typical response here), the satisfaction has not been universal. Conservative angst in the wake of Robert’s nomination is revealing.

The question is: What’s to dislike? He’s a serious Catholic. He was an accomplished litigator. He worked with distinction in the executive branch. His brief tenure as an appellate judge shows rock-solid jurisprudence. And, he’s eminently confirmable. Even Linda Greenhouse in today’s NYT offers faint praise, essentially conceding confirmation and expressing optimism that Roberts can be turned to the dark side.

And such a turning is precisely the issue. The only real complaint a conservative could have with Roberts is that he’s not militant enough. What many conservatives envision as the ideal SCOTUS nominee is Scalia with a toothache. Only such an ironclad originalist will ease the worries of a nominee contracting leftosis in the unclean air on Capitol Hill.

Of course, if a new Scalia were nominated today with the kind of brilliantly fierce dissents and rebukes the current Scalia has authored, he or she would never be confirmed. Exhibit A: Robert Bork.

I suspect that the range of likely SCOTUS candidates was far thinner than many pundits assumed for the very reason that any Supreme Court nominee in the 21st century has to be an established judicial conservative but not too established or conservative to get confirmed. That tends to make nominees younger (like Roberts) and gives the liberal disease more time to work pernicious effects. It also makes outcomes less predictable. Roberts simply hasn’t been a federal judge for very long, but he could wear the black robe for the next 30 years.

A (vaguely) Conservative president in his second term with a sympathetic Senate majority gets an opportunity to name a SCOTUS justice and yet cannot completely please his conservative base. The most well-established and certifiably conservative candidates are automatically removed from consideration. Does this strike anyone else as utterly absurd? What more is needed before serious citizens from both sides of the aisle are ready to discuss limiting the Supreme Court’s absolute authority?

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 20, 2005 12:32 PM.

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