More Vacancies to Fill for Bush Administration

This has been a banner year so far for the Bush Administration. Big "victories" include invading and occupying Iraq without UN approval, and passing a second massive tax cut to benefit the wealthiest Americans. So why is everyone jumping ship?

US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and National Economic Council Director Larry Lindsey quit in December, as both worried about the cost and effectiveness of more ill-advised tax cuts targeting the rich. Alan Reynolds, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, was happy to see these non-believers go and thought their replacements would "promote significant policy changes that will emerge in the coming year, particularly in tax policy."

A half dozen diplomats left during Gulf War II, disgusted with the way that the Bush administration squandered its international support for the war on terrorism, choosing instead to go it alone against Saddam Hussein and remove his yet-to-be-found weapons of mass destruction.

This week we say goodbye to Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and EPA Chief Christine Todd Whitman. Both cited a desire to spend more time with their family, but it doesn't take much reading between the lines to guess what was behind Whitman's decision, despite her comments to the contrary:

“I’m not leaving because of clashes with the administration. In fact, I haven’t had any. I report to the president, he has always asked me to give him my best unadulterated advice,” Whitman said in an interview with reporters Wednesday.

Whitman had differences with White House officials early during Bush’s presidency when she advised him in a March 6, 2001, memo that global warming “is a credibility issue for the U.S. in the international community” and “we need to appear engaged” in negotiations. The administration later withdrew from the Kyoto, Japan treaty on the issue negotiated by former Vice President Al Gore.

She also pushed enforcement of a Clean Air Act provision known as “New Source Review,” requiring that any increase in production from older factories, power plants and refineries be accompanied by state-of-the-art pollution controls. Those measures were opposed in Bush’s energy policy initiative.

“Christie Whitman must feel like her own long national nightmare is over,” said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, an advocacy group. “No EPA administrator has ever been so consistently and publicly humiliated by the White House.”

Now word has it that two, or even three Supreme Court Justices (Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor) will be stepping down in July, creating a huge opportunity for Bush to nudge the already right-leaning court just a little further to his side.

The Democrats are now launching a campaign to fight the GOP's special-interest money machine. A letter to Democrats today from DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe included these choice bits:

They've held secret fundraisers – one hosted by Former President George Bush - to help pay for a massive disinformation campaign that will try to hide the record of Bush's nominees. [Time, 4/26/03]

They've started "gearing up," watching videos of old confirmation hearings like an NFL team preparing for the Super Bowl. [Wall Street Journal, 5/19/03]

"We're gearing up for the ugliest fight this country has ever seen."
-- Unnamed Republican staffer, Senate Judiciary Committee [Wall Street Journal, 5/19/03]

Seven of the nine Democratic presidential candidates addressed the impending vacancies yesterday, in an event hosted by EMILY's list, warning that tipping the Supreme Court could undermine a woman's right to abortion.
"These judges, some of these judges, that come out of the White House, they will take your rights away," said Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Edwards, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, accused Bush of trying to load the federal bench with conservative judges. "If we as Democrats don't have the backbone to stand up to that, we don't stand for anything," he said.

Both Lieberman and Braun criticized Bush for nominating Judge J. Leon Holmes of Arkansas to a federal judgeship. Holmes has said women should submit to the authority of men, and he likened pro-choice activists to Nazis.

You can almost hear the Christian Right rubbing their hands together with glee on this one. But they're using fear and loathing to rally the troops, around the holy trinity of "religious liberty, the sanctity of life and the defense of marriage"; simply code for breaking down the barriers between church and state, outlawing abortion and same-sex marriages.

Once-and-future Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer is warning his people against "Supreme Court Armageddon" of all things, i.e. the nomination of "terrible" justices like Sandra Day O'Connor and David Souter.

Imagine that suddenly the White House and Senate liberals found themselves facing not one, but two Supreme Court vacancies. Surely Washington, D.C. would see the "mother of all confirmation battles." And that is exactly what Washington's rumor mill is predicting.

Dual vacancies could become a White House political nightmare, as well as an opportunity to bring great change to the Court.  Rehnquist, of course, is 100% conservative and would have to be replaced by someone just as strong or the White House would risk moving the Court further to the left.

O'Connor has been terrible on social issues and her departure could have a tremendous impact on cases involving religious liberty, the sanctity of life and the defense of marriage.

If the Administration does the right thing, future confirmation battles for Supreme Court vacancies will be massive, but each is a fight worth having. The possibility of impending high court vacancies also makes it even more critical for Senate Republicans to quickly and permanently resolve the current stalemate over judicial filibusters.

By the way, I was in the Reagan Administration when O'Connor was nominated. Top officials at the White House assured conservatives that she was "one of us," but, of course, she wasn't on the issues that mattered most and her record made that clear.

The same thing happened in the first Bush Administration with David Souter, who turned out to be even worse. We must not repeat that mistake again.

Already 100,000 Americans have signed a petition telling President Bush that they will "stand up for American values and oppose his right-wing extremist nominees to the nation's highest court."

Sign the petition. Write or call your Legislators. Write a Letter to the Editor. Tell your friends.