Hea' come de judge!

Roberts testifying

All rise

As expected, the Senate confirmed John Roberts to be the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. As expected, all the Republicans and the one Independent voted in favor of Roberts' confirmation. As expected, a large number of Democrats voted against his confirmation (see sidebar). They just can't help shooting themselves in the foot.

Considering that George W Bush has cited Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as his ideal justices, it is scary to imagine some others W might have nominated instead of Roberts. Friend and foe alike have characterized Roberts as a "brilliant legal mind," no one has unearthed even a hint of ethical laxity or moral turpitude, and he appears to be a genuinely nice person. From where I sit, Roberts looks like the best mistake George Bush ever made.

So why did so many Democrats vote against Roberts? They will all have their official, public reasons. I suspect that there are other reasons that would be impolitic to air in public. First and foremost, Roberts would not give them warm, fuzzy assurances that he agrees with their political causes. I can't fault him on that. Judges aren't supposed to have political agendas, and any judicial nominee who would say the things that would make Democrats happy would never be nominated by a Republican president, much less confirmed by a Republican Senate. Surely they know that.

I think the second reason so many Democrats opposed Roberts' confirmation is that they are attempting to "send a message" to George W that he will have a really big fight on his hands if he sends up a nominee for the second Supreme Court vacancy that Democrats can label "out of the mainstream." If that's the intent, I think it is wrongheaded. It may well provoke W to pick a fight, despite — or because of — his weakened political position right now. It also leaves Democrats open to more charges of obstructionism and partisanship, allowing W to once again shift focus off his own troubles and failings.

Supreme Court justices get a lifetime appointment, and they very often turn out to rule quite differently than the president who nominated them expected. I have a feeling that Roberts will turn out to be another such example. I hope I'm right, because Roberts could be Chief Justice for a very long time!