With the announcement that U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a Nixon appointee who was raised to chief justice by President Reagan who has been on the bench for 32 years, has thyroid cancer, the stakes in the presidential election become even more clearly drawn. The winner of next week’s election will surely appoint a chief justice, the most important role in the U.S. judiciary. Besides the well known concern about the placement of a justice who could vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, there is a clear push to erase the separation of church and state under the Bush Administration.
While the president accuses Senator Kerry of one sort of litmus test for judges, he applies a litmus test to anyone he meets, disregarding those who disagree with him out of hand. That indifference to the opinions of more than half of Americans is a far more worrying litmus test than any applied by previous presidents or Senator Kerry. If President Bush were to promote Antonin Scalia to chief and bring White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez (who, among other things, has written the memorandums justifying the use of torture and the expansion of presidential powers to detain U.S. citizens as “enemy combatants”) onto the bench as an associate justice, he will have tipped the court to the extreme right—it will no longer represent a balanced forum for national questions. Gonzalez has already shown his contempt for balance, acting early in the Bush II years to remove the American Bar Association from the judicial nominating process, effectively expelling the main source of objective analysis of a nominee’s fitness for the bench.
President Bush has already appointed a blatantly political Director of the CIA who is suppressing a report that could reflect poorly on the administration, trying to prevent its release before the election. That’s just one example of the politicization of information, rather than the pursuit of debate over policy, that marks the Bush Administration as the most dangerous to the American system in history.
The president will not hesitate to press his agenda on the Supreme Court, which is where the damage will be felt for the longest time, as these are appointments for life.