Change on the High Court

By the time readers receive this issue of Commonweal, they may know who President George W. Bush has nominated to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court. As we write, there is much fervid speculation about whether the president will choose a nominee who satisfies his right-wing political base, thereby plunging the Senate into months of conflict, or one who might be a consensus builder, thus easing the nation’s divisions. Given the president’s past appointments, few hold to the hope that he will make a gesture of reconciliation. Given a chance to shape the Court for years to come, Bush is expected to nominate someone who is, at the very least, unambiguously opposed to Roe v. Wade and, in the president’s often repeated remarks, a “strict constructionist” when it comes to interpreting-or is not interpreting?-the Constitution.

The rhetorical temperature surrounding the nomination has already spiked, with religious conservatives promising schism and “war” if Bush’s nominee is not known to be “reliable,” and liberals warning of the threat to fundamental liberties posed by those not in the “mainstream” of contemporary jurisprudence. At this moment, the president has done little to show his hand. Two aspects of the public discussion are perhaps worth noting at this early juncture. First, the nomination may seriously exacerbate the up-to-now largely hidden tension between the agendas of the...

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