Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Democrats and the Supremes

Nothing better illustrates the differences between Republicans and Democrats than Bush's nomination of John G. Roberts for the Supreme Court. Before the announcement Conservatives made it clear that even Alberto "torture is good" Gonzales was not far enough to the right for their tastes. They reminded Bush of his promise to appoint justices in the mold of Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas, and in Roberts they got a Rehnquist without the bad fashion sense, a Scalia without the visible fangs, and a Thomas with a brain.

The Democrats, for their part, characteristically charged into battle by retreating to their fall-back position: "GIVE US," they demanded with fists clenched "a moderate in the mold of O'Connor." That'll really rally the troops. And of course they got much less than that. To be sure there was no chance in hell that this president was going to nominate anyone truly palatable, so why not use the opportunity to mention the names of the kind of justices we'd really like to see on the court? The goal wouldn't be to get them nominated, but to illustrate dramatically how partisan Bush's short list is/was.

Better, why not discuss how undemocratic the Supreme Court is as an institution? The idea that nine men and women should be able to wield so much power in a representative democracy is really kind of crazy when you think about it. Why not open the debate on how to fix that? Propose that we amend the Constitution so that justices serve for twelve-year, staggered, non-renewable terms. Each elected president would get three Supreme Court appointees. Certainly presidents might be tempted to nominate partisan judges, but the knowledge that court majorities could change dramatically every four years would tend to force the justices themselves, if they do not wish to see their opinions overturned, to strive for broadly consensual rulings. Just a thought.

My point, though, is that Conservatives of late have tended to be more politically radical than Liberals--threatening to do away with the filibuster or, before the bloom faded from the Schwarzenegger rose, calling for a Constitutional amendment to allow naturalized citizens to run for President--while Liberals, mired in their red state/blue state funk, are behaving as if they'll never again represent the will of the majority. We've got to believe that more democratization favors our side because . . . well, because it does.