Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and other prominent Democrats Ted Kennedy and John Kerry have announced that they will vote against John Roberts’ nomination to be U.S. chief justice when it comes to the full Senate next week.
Tactically, the decision is questionable because it is a foregone conclusion that Roberts will win and, in Reid’s words, with "plenty of votes" from Democrats. The nomination hearings found nothing in Roberts’ legal background other than that before becoming a judge he was a very able and respected appellate lawyer with a needling sense of humor.
If the conventional wisdom is right — that swapping Roberts for the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist is an ideological wash — then the truly critical battle will be over the nominee to replace retiring swing voter Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. That appointment will determine the ideological balance of the court, and you would think that Democrats would hold their fire for that far more important battle.
In this context, voting against Roberts looks a lot like opposition for opposition’s sake.
Reid says he has reservations about Roberts’ views on civil rights and women’s rights. But it’s no secret that liberal Democratic activist groups, who think congressional Democrats have been all too passive, are demanding that their party’s senators vote against him under threat of withholding money and political aid.
Within broad limits, a president is entitled to his choice of nominees. That’s why we have elections. And if President Bush didn’t make the Democrats entirely happy with his choice of Roberts, neither did he please his own party’s zealots.
Politics aside, rote opposition tends to trivialize the Senate’s constitutional role of advise and consent. This is not a battle worth the Democrats fighting.