COLUMN: Tactical defeat, strategic victory?

ichael McLaughlin

On Sept. 29, 2005, Chief Justice John Roberts filled the first Supreme Court vacancy in more than 10 years after his confirmation by the Senate. He received the support of slightly more than half of the Democratic Caucus, winning the overall vote 78-22, somewhat surprisingly considering the contentious manner of the hearing.

While watching the confirmation hearings, I had the impression that Roberts is a bright man who didn’t particularly want to answer any of the questions asked by the Senate Judiciary Committee. While this tactic does have some precedent, for example Scalia wouldn’t answer questions about 200-year-old cases, and judges aren’t supposed to prejudge themselves on upcoming cases, the idea that a grown man can be nothing more than a tabula rasa in his 50s is laughable at best.

Due to this evasive tendency, I couldn’t have voted to confirm. But to be honest, I can understand why many Democrats in the Senate did. Roberts projects a rather moderate image, regardless of his views, and it’s quite hard to go after someone that mild-mannered. Factor in that he’s probably a notch or two to the left of Rehnquist, and opposing Roberts ends up being unfeasible for many Democrats, especially those in either a close re-election battle or a “red” state.

Of course, the majority of Republicans will vote lock-step for whomever the president nominates, but in that case there is still one weapon left to the Dems, the filibuster. However, if Senate Democrats had attempted to fight Roberts tooth and nail, not only would they have lost, but that defeat would have made it much easier for the GOP to bring back the nuclear opinion. But by allowing Roberts through without much of a fight, Democrats should be able to go after any wing-nut that Bush would nominate for the pivotal swing seat, while pointing to the example of Roberts as a “reasonable conservative” justice.

Granted, this plan requires the GOP to not use the nuclear opinion anyway, which isn’t something I would be willing to bet on, but it’s the best we can do when outnumbered 55-44-1. Don’t get me wrong, the Democratic leadership has done some rather wimpy things during this administration, but this isn’t one of them. This attempt to, in Minority Leader Harry Reid’s words, keep our powder dry, is actually rather astute. Unfortunately, such delaying actions are probably the best that a party in the congressional minority and out of the White House can manage.

At the end of the day, Roberts was the best we were going to get out of this president. While that’s kind of sad, we need to prepare for the battles we actually have a shot of winning, instead of tilting at windmills out of a sense of obligation.

Michael McLaughlin is a senior history major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].