Battle over Supreme Court Nominees Looms; Better to Debate Use of Filibuster Now Rather Than Later

Article excerpt

Byline: Tod Lindberg, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

If the White House has seemed a bit adrift on domestic matters, my guess is that's because they know something you don't know: The entire domestic debate is about to be taken up by a battle royale over two Supreme Court nominations. Social Security may not be going anywhere, but it makes little sense to try to introduce another major initiative when in a few weeks' time we are likely to have the mother of all partisan confrontations.

The likely first move is the announcement that William Rehnquist is stepping down, opening up the job of chief justice of the United States for only the 17th time in the nation's history.

Who, then, is in line to replace him? There's an interesting paradox here in that the position of chief justice sounds more powerful that it actually is. True, you get to bang the gavel when the Supreme Court is in session. If the House votes to impeach the president, you get to preside over the trial in the Senate. You get to write an earnest chin-stroking report each year on the state of the judiciary. If you want to, you can add snazzy stripes to your robe. And, of course, they do name the period after you, as in the Rehnquist court, the Warren court, etc.

But you are only one vote among nine, and your main activity on the court is assigning the writing of the majority opinion when you are in the majority. That's something, but not a lot.

Now, if I were the Bush administration, I'd look for a new chief on the current court. And since Antonin Scalia is universally regarded as a brilliant jurist, agree with him or disagree, and since my party base happens to love him, I'd look no farther.

What happens then? Well, that's a good question. If I were advising Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, I'd recommend letting the Scalia confirmation go through fairly easily. My reasoning would be that Justice Scalia is on the court already, his elevation does nothing to alter the voting pattern, and the real action ought to be directed toward the nominee who will fill Justice Scalia's associate seat once he gets the big chair. One could take the opportunity to look reasonable.

But I bet there are a lot of people advising Mr. Reid that Justice Scalia Must Be Stopped. It's sort of the principle of the thing: He is, after all, "evil Nino," in the charming characterization of one of the late Justice Blackmun's left-wing clerks.

We all know that the nominee for the vacant seat will be an evil-Nino clone, the Scalia Must Be Stopped crowd will say. …