I just posted the below comments at my blog at www.davidcorn.com. I am happy to share these first-reaction thoughts here.
I was not happy to see the flood of mails with similar subject headings: “O’Connor resigning.” From a parochial point of view, a titanic fight over a Supreme Court nomination can really ruin a summer in Washington. (Actually, despite the heat, summers in Washington tend to be quite pleasant; the town slows down, Congress is gone for a good spell, traffic eases, there’s plenty of parking, and I can catch up on a year’s worth of filing.) But, worse, the expected war over the nominee (whoever it is) will be ugly. It should be ugly. There will be much at stake. But ugly is ugly–and the Democrats are hardly in a strong position to block George Bush if he makes a not-dumb choice. So the pessimist in me–which is usually, though not always, right when it comes to predicting the success rate (or lack thereof) rate for the Dems–fears that after all the ugliness transpires Bush will win out, and the court will veer further to the right. The operative question may be, How much?
Let’s be clear about this. During the nuclear option fight, the Democrats were not able to court enough Republicans to prevent Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist from killing the judicial filibuster in an up-or-down vote. It took a tilted-to-the-GOP compromise fashioned by so-called moderates in both parties to thwart (perhaps temporarily) Frist’s desire to eliminate the judicial filibuster. Any fight over a Bush nominee to the Supreme Court will eventually have to come down to a with-us-or-against-us vote. That means if Bush nominates someone who the Democrats believe warrants a filibuster, there will be a replay of the nuclear option drama. Only this time it will be more dramatic. The Democrats will threaten a filibuster; Frist will threaten the nuclear option. And those same six or so Republicans whom the Democrats tried (and failed) to win over as a bloc on the nuclear option fight will again be the targets for the Democratic leaders. But what would make these GOPers side with the Democrats this time, especially when the stakes are higher? And, unlike the last episode, these Republicans will not be saved by the bell of a compromise that kicks the can down the road (to mix metaphors). There will be more pressure on them to stick to the party line when a Supreme Court nomination is at stake.