A Senate Out of Practice

(by Last Night in Little Rock)

The New York Times reports this morning that 56 Senators were not around the last time a Supreme Court nominee came before them. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) now leads the Senate Judicary Committee which has only 8 of 18 members with prior experience. Specter had a re-election fight on his hands after the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing where he was less than kind to Anita Hill's allegations.

We can expect that Specter has mellowed, and he isn't running for re-election. Should we feel safer that a moderate is in charge of the Committee? Staff is combing the historical records to see how to deal with the nomination process, from the FBI background check to their internal security in keeping their own papers private.

With the potential retirement of Chief Justice Rehnquist today, the game of musical chairs begins. Does O'Connor's replacement come up first, or will it be Rehnquist, presumably replaced by Scalia, and then Scalia's replacement....?

If nominated, Scalia will become Chief, and then his seat is open. The battlelines, as they say, are being drawn. Will it be one non-controversial nominee and one controversial or two controversial nominees? I have no confidence in the former, as long as Deputy President Karl Rove has any say. Anybody who could take out Vietnam War veteran and triple amputee Senator Max Clellan as 'anti-veteran' is without conscience and capable of anything. Bush has a chance to appear like a reasonable person and not the divider he has been in making two easily confirmable nominations besides Scalia.

But I'm not holding my breath. Any adherent to the politics of personal destruction, who would knowingly make war on a lie and lie to get re-elected, would taunt the Democrats and even the moderates with a far Right nominee bound to create controversy. Could it be they plan to set up a nominee to be Borked, just to create a storm and then blame Democrats or their own moderates?

Nothing would surprise me. I grieved over O'Connor's retirement, like I did with Brennan and Marshall. O'Connor will be remembered as legendary, too. Will her and the other replacement prove to be as tall? There are plenty of easily confirmable people out there, but never expect this President to chose that course.

The Republicans weren't in control of the Senate when Bork got Borked, so they likely won't stand by to see it again. The worst part of it is that potential bad or mediocre nominees may get soft treatment at Republican insistence when the civil liberties of the entire nation are at stake.

This nominee is their legacy, too, but they either will never appreciate it or even care if they do. How well will they handle it? Can Specter bring rationality to the process? I hope he can, but he's only one Republican vote with a finger on the scale to keep it true.

Bush winning the election was bad enough. Getting a Supreme Court nominee was an insult to the Constitution he was sworn to uphold. I feel my stomach turning and a sense of foreboding, like the Constitutional Titanic steaming toward the iceberg, but only those of us who care about civil liberties see the iceberg. I would like to think the Captain thinks it's imaginary, but he intends to ram the iceberg.

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