I don’t want to start the fur flying with my colleague The Moose, who did a post earlier today explaining why he’d unenthusiastically vote to confirm John Roberts Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. But I definitely disagree; like him, speaking for myself only. To compress The Moose’s argument somewhat, he suggested that Roberts is acceptable because (a) he’s not a crazy person, and (b) Bush won the election, and presidents of either party deserve some benefit of the doubt on judicial nominations.I, too, am happy that Roberts appears to have ruled out paid-up-membership-in-good-standing in the Constitution In Exile movement. But Lord-a-Mighty, I hope we haven’t gotten to the point where the only disqualifier for a conservative Chief Justice would be if he or she openly and defiantly declares that most of the works of all three branches of the federal government over much of the twentieth century violates the Original Intent of the Founders, and must be overturned by judicial fiat.The fruits-of-victory argument is probably more important to the case for accepting Roberts, since it applies to the Democratic presidents of the future as well as to Bush.But I would respond that Bush has already deeply undermined that tradition by (1) refusing any serious bipartisan consultation over his judicial nominations, in sharp contrast with his predecessor, Bill Clinton, who almost certainly took a few names off his potential SCOTUS list to avoid a confirmation fight; and (2) engaging in an open, high-stakes campaign to reshape the Court and U.S. constitutional law through his appointments, with Roberts serving as the linchpin if not the ultimate tipping point.In other words, we are at a moment in which Supreme Court appointments represent a lunge towards Eternal Life for this wounded presidency. If stopping that lunge means sacrificing routine Republican votes for future Democratic SCOTUS nominations, so be it.And that, I would contend, is the most compelling argument against the final and best rationale for not worrying about Roberts: he’s just a one-for-one replacement for Rehnquist, and thus does not change the balance on the Court.That’s true, but Roberts is 50 years old, and since, as I profoundly hope, 50 is the new 30, he therefore represents in all probability at least a thirty-year extension of Rehnquist’s conservative and occasionally counter-revolutionary jurisprudence. Think about this: for the next seven or so presidential terms, SCOTUS will be “the Roberts Court.” This is not something progressives should minimize according to tactical considerations of the nomination in this moment’s political struggles.I do agree that the next presidential nomination to replace Justice O’Connor is even bigger in terms of shaping the future Court. And I don’t think Democrats should be forced to walk the plank to oppose or filibuster Roberts, who will probably get universal support from Senate Republicans.But given this nominee’s enduring significance; the Bush administration’s clear right-wing judicial-activist intentions; and the need to make it abundantly clear that the next nominee, if he or she is to the right of O’Conner, will face obstruction sho nuff–a robust Democratic vote against Roberts would be a very good thing.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
Watching an intra-Democratic argument on voting rights strategy intensify in Washington, I offered some advice to both sides at New York:
There has been an underlying disagreement within the mostly Democratic coalition favoring voting rights that was nicely captured in this New York Times report on Friday:
“A quiet divide between President Biden and the leaders of the voting rights movement burst into the open on Thursday, as 150 organizations urged him to use his political mettle to push for two expansive federal voting rights bills that would combat a Republican wave of balloting restrictions … In private calls with voting rights groups and civil rights leaders, White House officials and close allies of the president have expressed confidence that it is possible to ‘out-organize voter suppression,’ according to multiple people familiar with the conversations.”
Both sides in this argument are partly wrong. Those who expect Joe Biden to force the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act through the Senate via some major revision in the ability to filibuster are probably expecting the impossible. Yes, perhaps if Biden personally and insistently and abrasively lobbied Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema to abandon her very consistent defense of the filibuster, up to and including encouragement of a primary challenge to her when she is up for reelection in 2024, she might decide her current and very insistent independent-maverick “branding” isn’t going to keep working for her. But Joe Manchin? He would be thrilled to get attacked by a Democratic president or Democratic advocacy groups for insisting that he won’t support voting-rights measures unless at least some Republicans support them. His state is so very red that the threat of a primary challenge to the sole remaining successful West Virginia Democrat is a laugher.
Short of a nuclear attack on West Virginia, it’s hard to identify anything Biden might do to Manchin that wouldn’t run a high risk of backfiring. And he does need Manchin on the reconciliation bills Democrats are using to get around the filibuster to enact Biden’s social and economic agenda. It’s just too bad voting-rights bills don’t qualify for reconciliation.
Yes, it is intensely frustrating that Biden cannot bring himself to come out forthrightly for filibuster reform, but it probably doesn’t matter since it is not happening unless the Democratic Senate Conference gets bigger, making senators like Manchin and Sinema irrelevant on the subject. So at some point voting-rights advocates need to focus on that goal.
At the same time, White House claims that Democrats can “out-organize voter suppression” are partially wrong as well. Yes, restrictive provisions like voter-ID requirements, limits on voting by mail, and even voter-roll purges can be countered and perhaps overcome by intensive efforts to educate and energize the voters Republicans are trying to keep from the polls. But you cannot out-organize a partisan gerrymander, or a law that lets election officials or state legislators overturn the outcome of an election after votes are cast.
Voting-rights advocates will eventually have to play the cards dealt to them by the system as it currently exists. That means refraining from too much anger aimed at Democratic pols who have little choice but to concede defeat on some legislation and concentrate on legislation (i.e., those reconciliation bills with many items vital to the people whose voting rights are also under attack) they can enact with no margin for error in the Senate and little in the House. At the same time, Biden and his staff and Democratic “pragmatists” in Congress should never for a moment be cavalier about the legislative obstacles they face in defending democracy itself. They may have to accept a tactical defeat on voting rights in this Congress. But they should never, ever, give up on making it happen later if not sooner.