Tuesday, September 06, 2005

when reality mirrors fiction

Off the bat, I will ask for a little leeway with the following post. The great majority of the prelude is garnered from an episode of "the West Wing" that I saw just one time, and it was about four years ago, so the details might be a little sketchy. . .

Pres Bush currently has two vacancies to fill on the Supreme Court, and he has elevated John Roberts to the nominee for Chief Justice. While this will probably make Roberts' confirmation go a little easier (now he can be looked at as a Rehnquist "replacement", although that word doesn't seem to fit just right), it will undoubtedly make the fight over the other seat on the High Court a real screamer. So I have just one question:

What would Jeb do?

No, I'm not talking about Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida (you may have heard of him--he deftly handled 4 hurricanes last year without ever making a snit over the Feds' response to the situation? But I digress. . .). I'm talking about Jeb Bartlett, fictional President on The West Wing. As it turns out, a couple years back the writers of that show gave Bartlett a couple openings on the Supreme Court. Even more prophetic, the writers split the departing justices up, making one a conservative-leaning jurist and the other a liberal sympathizer. EVEN MORE uncanny than that, one of the departing justices was the Chief Justice. Seriously, I need to find out what crystal ball those writers are using!

So what did Bartlett, a Democrat, do in this situation? Well, he and his staff had their eye on one judge in particular, a real firebrand (I don't even know what that means) played by Glenn Close. She sends some of the Prez's staff members into a tizzy with her brilliance; unfortunately, her manner has the opposite effect on the Republicans, who apparently are not big fans of putting this judge on the Supreme Court.

But this is fictional Washington, where a deal can always be struck. The GOP leadership puts forward their top candidate for the OTHER opening, a brilliant conservative played by William Fichtner. Of course the administration doesn't like this judge one bit. . .but if his nomination clears the way for Close's character, it might be a pill that the Jeb is willing to swallow.

Again, since this is Hollywood, everything ends up just peachy in the end. Fichtner is nominated for the vacant conservative post, Close is nominated to the vacant Chief Justice spot, and the status quo is restored as the nation moves on in blissful harmony.

Let's make something perfectly clear: such a scenario should not unfold in the real world, at least not today.

I have no real dog in the "Roberts for Chief Justice" fight. I think it was a solid tactical move by the President if for no other reason than to spare the world another confirmation hearing. Roberts APPEARS to be a good candidate to be on the Court itself, and from all that I've heard the "Chief Justice" is a title with few additional duties. If it helps clear the way for Roberts to get on the court, that's all the better to me.

For the next pick, I have just one word of advice: make sure your motives are pure. Bush should seek, first and foremost, to elevate a great (preferably conservative) judicial mind to the Supreme Court; secondly, he should seek someone who will not serve as an embarrassment (personally or professionally) either to the Court or to the man who nominated him/her. If the person happens to be somewhat young-ish, that would be great (especially if they turn out to be a conservative on the bench), but when you start talking about age you start dancing on the fringes of the LAST thing that should enter into the equation: physical attributes.

I don't care if a nominee is white, black or pink with little yellow spots--it shouldn't matter. Likewise, I don't care if the nominee is male, female or androgynous. If the person is qualified in accordance with the above criteria, then they're good enough for me (I have my favorites, of course, but what I'm really looking for is anyone who helps move the court to the right while maintaining the honor of the highest court of the land). A brilliant legal mind should not be punished for the "vessel" that carries it around; similarly, nobody should be given the nod solely--or even mostly--because of the body that happens to adorn the robe.

Enough pontificating. . .

Also, I don't care about the argument of "promoting" from the legislative bodies in order to make for a "smooth" nomination process. The nomination process should, of course, be somewhat of a consideration--but IF the elected representatives of the majority-holding GOP are doing their job, they will make sure that a qualified nominee gets his/her just desserts. And while there are plenty of good conservative legislators out there, I am concerned about their ability to transition away from the role of "legislator". Jurists have a different role--but I'm sure you have better things to do than get a civic lesson from me.

Back to motives: when you act with impure motives, frequently you get what you deserve. If Bush keeps the proper focus in mind, he has the potential to help swing the court to the right--which would be a net "win" for us conservatives. How far to the right depends on how bold Bush will be--and we'll just have to wait and see. This is a great opportunity to shape the next 30 years of the country, which is a task that the President hasn't shied away from yet--I look for good things out of this nomination!

OH--and as a far of the side aside: back to the West Wing. Fichtner's character is waiting in a parlor in the White House to have a sit-down with the Prez when he gets attacked (verbally) by Toby (White House Comms director) about some political issue. Toby of course takes the liberal stance, while the Judge argues the conservative stance. Enter Close's character, just out of the Oval Office meeting with the President. She asks "what's up", to which Fichtner's character tells her that Toby was lecturing him on why the "liberal" view of the issue is correct. Judge Close finds it amusing because she knows that Judge Fichtner is actually opposed to the "conservative" argument LEGALLY because it is an overstepping of Constitutionally-derived powers. . .or some such thing. Even the writers of the West Wing know what motivates a conservative jurist? How can that be. . .or rather, how can that be hard to understand?


Blogger Michael said...

I know the episode well. Funny that the only two actual legal arguments Fechtner gets into are ones in which he makes the best argument for the LIBERAL outcome which is disguised as a CONSERVATIVE argument. It's perhaps one of their smartest episodes at points, but also the singularly most insulting to conservatives. Let me get this straight: Privacy is sacrosanct and the invention of rights is good judicial exercise, but the good conservative is the one who holds absolute the limits of the Constitution.

Not that I disagree with a restrained Judiciary--Judge Roberts' best point from this morning, too.

9:19 PM  

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