Supreme Court Earthquake

The nation will soon become even more polarized with the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 75, and anticipated resignation of ailing Justice William Rehnquist, 80.

Religious conservatives are viewing this as a golden opportunity to remodel the United States to more closely fit their religious political views. Liberals, civil libertarians and church-vs-state separatists fear loss of ground held or gained in the last several decades. As the Court goes, there could be big losses for civil rights, abortion rights, women’s rights, gay rights, freedom of expression and impartial education of future generations.

O’Connor’s judiciary role has been cast as a centrist, a swing vote. Rehnquist’s, as a clear conservative. George W. Bush is not expected to use judiciary restraint in nominating replacements. Those favoring a continuation of the constitutional separation of church and state will need to put up a fierce resistance to neoconservative replacement nominees, and they will. Senator Feinstein predicts that conservatively extreme nominees would shut down “business as usual” in Congress as early as this summer.

It’s already summer. A local television station splashed a picture of former attorney general Ashcroft as a potential nominee. Many of us, including me, would go ballistic at such an image. Ashcroft’s obviously one-sided partisanship aside, the man is not qualified to hold any office requiring any particular ability to reason through issues and principles. That would be like appointing Michael Jackson to hand out the towels in the middle school boy’s showers.

At this early stage we can only wait with bated breath for the White House’s next move. Scary stuff. Based on past performance, it’s unrealistic to expect George W. Bush to take any action to preserve the current balance on the Court, such as it is. Even Bush’s detractors concede there’s no requirement or precedend for him to do so. We can only hope the concerns of a divided nation will limit Bush’s choices on the side of a modicum of moderation and restraint.

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