Today is July 1st, and I was greeted with the fascinating news that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has decided to retire from the US Supreme Court. This comes as a shot out of left field, as everyone believed that the first of this rapidly aging Court to step down would be Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is suffering from throat cancer.

Justice O’Connor was appointed by President Reagan 24 years ago, becoming the first woman ever to serve on the Supreme Court. She has served with distinction, though not without controversy, and her moderate to conservative position on most issues will be missed on a deeply divided court. Often, her vote was a difference maker on crucial 5-4 decisions rendered by the Court. For instance, she voted to uphold the Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade abortion decision. She also voted with the majority to award the 2000 Presidential election to George W. Bush. Recently, she voted with the minority in opposing the expansion of government’s ability to use eminent domain to seize private property, calling the majority’s decision a serious blow to private property rights and individual freedom.

Her exit provides President Bush with his first opportunity to make an appointment to the Supreme Court, and this is guaranteed to become a war between liberals and conservatives. The recent meltdown in the US Senate over the filibustering of President Bush’s judicial appointments to the lower federal courts was just a prelude to the controversies certain to arise over whomever he nominates. Of course, the over-riding issue is going to be abortion rights and the future of the Roe vs. Wade decision, and with a pro-choice Justice stepping down, and a pro-life President making the appointment, one should expect to see fireworks as soon as the nomination is announced.

This situation will again raise the issue of whether or not 40% of the Senate should be able to block a vote. Right now, with the right to filibuster, the minority can block any vote by the Senate if there aren’t at least 60 votes to kill the filibuster. The Senate came very, very close to killing the filibuster rule a few weeks ago, but a last minute coalition put together by Arizona Senator John McCain created a “compromise” that kept the filibuster rule in place while allowing an up or down vote on most of the President’s judicial nominations to the lower courts. That gambit also put John McCain into a very powerful position, in that he made an “end run” around Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Essentially, there is now a coalition of 14 “moderate” Republican and Democratic Senators who are going to have control over how the President’s nomination fares. Without the support of this group of 14, the filibuster rule will be allowed to remain, which means that the President’s nominee will have to be acceptable to this group or the nomination will be killed by a filibustering minority.

One can make a valid argument that the branch of government that has the greatest impact upon the lives of American citizens is the Supreme Court. Therefore, it can also be argued that a President’s most important action while in office is the opportunity to make a nomination of a new Justice to the Court. The legacy of that choice can last for many decades, and can change the course of the nation’s social and economic future.

If the President is successful in placing two Justices who share his conservative view of the Court’s role (that view being that the Court’s role is to interpret the law, not make it), then we will see a major shift in the decisions coming out of the Supreme Court. One very likely scenario will be that the Roe vs. Wade decision will be reversed in some manner, with the States determining whether or not abortions should be legal within their jurisdictions.

For that reason alone, those who favor the status quo of Roe vs. Wade will do anything in their power to discredit whomever the President nominates. There will also be political ramifications for this battle, since control of the Congress will again be in play in 2006, and traditionally, the party in power will lose seats where the President is entering the tail end of his second term. Thus, the Senate will have a phenomenal amount of political posturing and positioning by those who must run in 2006.

Expect a historic fight over the President’s choice to replace Justice O’Connor. Let’s just hope that truly good and decent people aren’t smeared once again by those seeking to gain power at any cost. But I’m not holding my breath.

The Waynedale News Staff

Sen. David Long

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