Monday, January 03, 2005

À Votre Santé
Some people likely have the day off today, but for most, it's back to work, as the holidays are well and truly over. The 109th Congress returns to Washington this week; the new and even-more-wingnutty Wisconsin legislature is back in town today. Bush is beginning his PR push for the destruction of Social Security, and the countdown to the farcical Iraqi elections is on. (Of course, all the TV morning shows were giving blanket coverage to the new book by Amber Frey, who had something to do with the Laci Peterson murder case--so how bad could things be?)

A battle that's looming, but not looming yet, is over the Supreme Court. It's likely that the first vacancy will be for Chief Justice, and the smart money is on Antonin Scalia to be elevated to the post. A suggestion emerged today that runs counter to the conventional wisdom, advising Democrats to let the Scalia nomination go forward unhindered. Reason: His elevation to Chief will not change the ideological balance of the court, at least not until his replacement as associate justice is named. Furthermore, his polarizing style will likely keep him from building the kind of opinion coalitions Earl Warren built for landmark rulings, so he's not likely to be very effective. Given all that, the thinking goes that Democrats would be smarter to save their energy and ammunition for a more meaningful court fight. (Whether they'll be smart enough to do that or not is an open question--many of the interest groups that make up the Democrat coalition have been spoiling for a Court fight since 2001, and may be unwilling to sit on their hands when the time comes.)

Josh Hammond at Best of the Blogs made a similar point in a post this morning, and I'm persuaded by it. The heavyweight fight will indeed come later--but if I had to guess, I'd bet it will be far later than we imagine, and not over Scalia's replacement at all. Because I am guessing Bush's first nominee will be someone the Senate will be reluctant to grill too closely--like maybe Orrin Hatch of Utah, who's been mentioned for the court for years. Hatch is a wingnut, sure--but he's a longtime member of the World's Most Exclusive Club with a lot of personal relationships, most notably with Ted Kennedy, his closest friend in the Senate. It's hard to imagine how such a nomination could be defeated. John Ashcroft is another possibility, although less likely than Hatch, I think.

The reason for this guess is not rocket science. Bush and the Repugs don't want to fight the promised nuclear war over judicial appointments in 2005--not when Bush's political capital has to be used to dismantle Social Security first. Next year--an election year--might be more opportune time to fight a Court battle, especially given the political pressure James Dobson has promised to bring to bear on certain senators who don't toe his line on judicial appointments.

Meanwhile, keep wishing good health to Justices Stevens and Ginsburg.

Recommended Reading: The Fly Trap reports on the astounding dishonesty of the administration's deficit numbers. Coming next: Bush announces that two plus two equals five. Also, World O'Crap has more of the Wingnuttiest People of 2004.

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