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Monday, February 9, 2009

Rhetoric over Judges Already Heating Up

It seems that news of Justice Ginsburg’s illness has energized conservatives who have been gearing up for a fight over President Obama’s (eventual) Supreme Court nominees. While no one knows for sure whether the president will have an opportunity to appoint anyone to the highest court in the land, the odds are in his favor. And during the campaign, Republicans used this fact against him. Now, it seems, they’re at it again.

As Christy Hardin Smith noted on FireDogLake, conservative messages have been cropping up in some big-time news publications when it comes to any judges President Obama might appoint. The Los Angeles Times called for the president to “end the judge wars” by heeding Sen. Arlen Specter’s (R-PA) calls to re-nominate some of President Bush’s nominees -- particularly Peter Keisler. And this weekend, Newsweek’s Stuart Taylor seemed to suggest that if President Obama were to appoint a strong progressive to the Supreme Court, it would signal a lack of concern for “bipartisanship.”

Well, how quickly we forget. During the last eight years, the idea of “bipartisanship” espoused by Senate Republicans was to quietly accept whomever the president selected. Many conservatives were outraged when Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) made a deal with President Bush to re-nominate Helene White to the Sixth Circuit – a nominee originally put forward by President Clinton. Now many of the same people who decried the White nomination are calling on the Obama administration to roll over and do the same.

In an interview with CNN this weekend, AFJ President Nan Aron said that Republicans are already testing their opposition messages for their fight against President Obama’s nominees. “I think we saw during Eric Holder’s hearing, Republican senators testing out messages -- not designed to deny confirmation to Eric Holder, but to test them to see whether they'd work with some of Obama's judicial nominees.” This new wave of calls for a certain type of nominee is likely part and parcel of a larger effort to test messages and gear up for a fight should the time come.

Bipartisanship does not mean ignoring core constitutional principles like liberty, equality and justice for all when making judicial nominations, a distinction we are sure President Obama -- who just happens to be a former professor of constitutional law -- understands quite well.

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