All of Washington is focused on the Supreme Court these days, playing the guessing game of whether or when Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist will retire. Everyone seems to have a theory. What's your guess? Next Friday? Next year?
One thing's for sure, if the chief justice resigns, newspapers and talking heads will need to provide instant advice to President Bush and the Senate on exactly what to do to fill the vacancy. The nation will wait with bated breath for the media experts to weigh in. To save the experts time and energy, here's an all-purpose template for the occasion. Just decide where you fall on the liberal-conservative spectrum and fill in the blanks.
The retirement of William H. Rehnquist presents a tremendous opportunity for President George W. Bush. We urge the president to select a [consensus/conservative] nominee to lead the Supreme Court into the 21st century.
Despite its conservative reputation, the Rehnquist court proved unexpectedly [independent/activist] in its later years. The court's recent decisions in favor of gay rights and against the juvenile death penalty echoed the [enlightened rulings/judicial supremacy] of the [celebrated/infamous] liberal Warren court.
The chief justice often dissented from such decisions, and history may find that the real center of power on the Rehnquist court was Sandra Day O'Connor, who has also announced her resignation. Although nominated by Ronald Reagan, O'Connor's jurisprudence [evolved/strayed] during her 24-year tenure on the high court. She became a [mainstream/unpredictable] jurist who often joined the court's [centrist/liberal] wing.
The key question for Bush is whether to replace Rehnquist and O'Connor with judges committed to the [ultra right-wing/correct] approach to constitutional interpretation shared by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Scalia and Thomas are true [conservative wing-nuts/believers in the Constitution as written]. For over a decade they have tried to [turn back the clock to the Stone Age/ interpret the law, not make it]. Alternatively, the president may select less [extreme/principled] nominees who will try to [bring balance to/legislate from] the bench.
Many commentators speculate that Bush will pick his friend, Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales Jr., to fill one of the openings on the court. A Gonzales nomination would be a [relief/disappointment]. While Gonzales has a proven record of loyalty to the president, he does not appear to be a [radical/conservative]. More conservative judges on the administration's "short list" would be much [worse/better]. For example, nominating J. Michael Luttig or Janice Rogers Brown would signal to all Americans that the Constitution is [on life support/back from the dead].
If the president nominates either or both of these candidates, the Senate should respond with a [filibuster/standing ovation]. The framers of our Constitution clearly intended that the Senate would provide [advice and consent/an up-or-down vote], not [a rubber stamp/endless delay]. Our senators should not let partisan chicanery frustrate the framers' design.
Members of the GOP base have made their position clear: They want Bush to nominate a strong conservative to the Supreme Court. The president should [ignore/listen to] them. He must not elevate politics over principle. The fate of our Constitution, and our nation, hangs in the balance.