Monday, September 12, 2005

Roberts Confirmation Hearing Begins Today . . . Does Anyone Care?

Via the NYTs

A survey last week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 71 percent of Americans were paying attention to stories about gasoline prices and 70 percent to the hurricane, but only 18 percent to the Roberts nomination.
Given the urgency of the Katrina crisis and the immediacy of the spike in gas prices, it’s no surprise that John Roberts’ confirmation hearing isn’t the first thing on the minds of Americans. But ready or not, the hearing begins today. Since confirmation is a numbers game that, given the current make up of the Senate, Republicans are destined to win, the Roberts hearing is a foregone conclusion. That said, Democrats can still use the hearing to their advantage.

Before Rehnquist died, and before John Roberts was nominated for Chief Justice, I was feeling pretty cynical about the left’s response to the Roberts nomination. Liberal politicians and pundits alike were portraying the Democrats as the party of moral victory and practical loss, suggesting that while Roberts would certainly be confirmed Senate Democrats could stand up and prove that they weren’t happy about it. Who cares? Democrats can display all the principle they can muster, but when the president keeps getting his picks confirmed (Rice, Chertoff, Gonzales, Bolton) what difference does it make? The Roberts confirmation hearing was looking like business as usual, until Rehnquist died that is.

All of a sudden, Roberts is not replacing a moderate swing vote on the court, he’s replacing its conservative stalwart. Now, even with his imminent confirmation, Roberts does not stand to shift the ideological balance of power on the court as he did a few weeks ago.

With his approval ratings scraping all time lows, Bush has all but exhausted the “political capital” he touted after winning reelection. If Democrats make the Roberts hearing a referendum on issues of civil rights, privacy, torture, and abortion, they can deal a preemptive blow against Bush’s next pick for the court. At the very least, grilling Roberts will make it harder for Bush to put a reactionary conservative on the bench. But the best case scenario is that a strong opposition to Roberts will force Bush to consider a more moderate conservative next time around.

The timing is as good as it's going to get.

--Matthew McCoy