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Moderate or bust for Bush
If President Bush wants to be remembered by everyone for doing something courageous, he ought to choose a moderate to replace Justice O'Connor on the Supreme Court.

  Richard Amrhine's archive
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Date published: 7/17/2005


J USTICE SANDRA Day O'Connor is the first to push what may become a revolving door at the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming months. President Bush's choice to be her successor will set the tone for what is expected to be a series of contentious confirmation procedures.

Many people expected Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist would step down first because of his health. But he kept pace with the court's case load despite undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer, and his anticipated announcement at the session's end never came.

The independent O'Connor was not about to let the threat of a double vacancy prevent her from leaving to spend time with her ailing husband. But O'Connor's decision may keep Rehnquist on the bench awhile longer.

There's ongoing speculation about the tenure of Justice John Paul Stevens, who is 85 and has served on the court for nearly 30 years.

After O'Connor, then, President Bush seems certain to have at least one more Supreme Court appointment before the 2008 election, if not two. The court's philosophical direction hangs in the balance with each seat.

Perhaps President Bush should take his cue from another president who appointed three justices, Ronald Reagan. Of course, it is a different political era. There was also a Republican Senate majority at that time, and tax cuts were a constant topic, but the conservatism seemed more tied to traditional values in a nostalgic sense rather than to today's rigid, pro-life, Bible-belt fundamentalism.

In any event, Reagan was able to shepherd through his first two nominees, O'Connor and Antonin Scalia, with little resistance. And after two false starts at filling his third vacancy (recall Robert Bork and David Ginsberg?), Reagan went with Anthony Kennedy, who sailed through confirmation.

Even Bush supporters have to agree that he sorely lacks President Reagan's public charisma. But like Reagan, Bush would do well to nominate a woman, perhaps one who, like O'Connor, has the resume of a moderate conservative but can't be pigeonholed on the right or left.

With the smooth confirmation of O'Connor in September 1981, Reagan was positioning himself above the ideological fray. At 70 years old, he had survived an assassin's bullet just six months earlier, for heaven's sake. He was not only the nation's president, he was its wounded hero granddad.

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