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July 20, 2005
The Timing Of Roberts' Nomination

Plenty of speculation appears in today's commentary about the timing of the John Roberts nomination to the Supreme Court. With Patrick Fitzgerald's grand-jury investigation into the Plame leak eating up headlines over speculation on Karl Rove's role, some argue that the administration wants to use the SCOTUS nomination to push Plame off the front page. This punditry finds its way into what should be straight news reporting, as in Elisabeth Bumiller's inside look into the eventful day that preceded the prime-time announcement last night:

Both Republicans and Democrats said that the speeded-up timing - administration officials had at one point told reporters to expect an announcement in the last week of July - would have the effect of pushing news of Karl Rove and a federal investigation into who leaked the identity of a C.I.A. officer off the front pages, at least for a time. But Mr. Bartlett told reporters that Mr. Bush's timing had nothing to do with Mr. Rove and everything to do with giving the Senate adequate time to meet Judge Roberts and to deal with the enormous amount of paperwork and logistics such a nomination requires before the recess next week.

"This was driven by that time clock," Mr. Bartlett said.

Some may dismiss Bartlett's claim as ridiculous. After all, the Senate has several weeks in which to confirm Roberts, and timing should be no problem at all. However, those people obviously did not watch Senator Pat Leahy speak with the press last night, along with his colleague Chuck Schumer. The two Judiciary Committee members made it clear that they will not allow this nomination to move forward expeditiously at all; both insisted that his earlier and overwhelming approval to the DC Circuit appellate bench made no difference at all.

Leahy in particular seemed to warn of a long, protracted battle. "Judge O'Connor gave us such a gift," he said, in a number of lavish references to the retiring SCOTUS justice whom Roberts will replace. "She promised to return in October if we didn't have a replacement confirmed," sounding hopeful that this is exactly what will happen. It may have provided one of the strangest moments last night, having a Senator on the Judiciary Committee openly hope that they could stall a nomination in order to force the return of a retired justice who wants to spend more time with her ailing husband.

Schumer didn't sound any better. He complained that despite the most consultation any president had conducted in modern American history, the Judiciary Committee would start off woefully unprepared for an expeditious processing of Roberts' nomination:

Two prominent members of the committee, Mr. Durbin and Mr. Schumer, warned on Tuesday that the president's failure to share names with them could complicate the confirmation process.

"Had we been given some names beforehand," Mr. Schumer said, "we would have been able to do some due diligence before any announcement, and be able to suggest to the president who might quickly succeed and who might face a tougher road to confirmation."

In other words, be prepared for another silly season from the Senate Democrats. John Roberts has appeared on almost every speculative list for the past two years on possible SCOTUS nominations. Not only that, but the Judiciary Committee has already interviewed Roberts for the DC Circuit appeals court two years ago. Unless Schumer and Leahy want to tell the American public that they treated his nomination cavalierly and carelessly because an appellate court holds no great import -- a notion that flies in the face of their obstructionist tactics for the past four years -- then the idea that the Senate doesn't have the necessary preparation for a confirmation hearing will receive nothing but derision from all but the most left-wing of demagogues.

If this is what the Democrats try, they can kiss 2006 goodbye.

UPDATE: One reader asks me to clarify O'Connor's status. She resigned "effective upon the nomination and confirmation of my successor." In other words, her resignation from the bench becomes effective the moment the Senate confirms her replacement. That avoided leaving a deciding vote off the bench if the confirmation process bogged down. That clause, which is not all that unusual, is what Leahy called a "gift" last night. I think he considers it a life preserver. Had she flat-out refused to return, the pressure on the Democrats to avoid stalling would have been tremendous.

UPDATE II: Jon at QandO nails bad reporting and criticism at Tapped. It's been a while since I've linked to Jon, but I read his neo-libertarian (libertarianism mixed with sanity) blog every day, and I recommend it to everyone. Great stuff there.

Sphere It bad reporting and criticism at Tapped. It's been a while since I've linked to Jon, but I read his neo-libertarian (libertarianism mixed with sanity) blog every day, and I recommend it to everyone. Great stuff there.&topic=politics"> Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 20, 2005 7:00 AM

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