We do not know how Republican Supreme Court nominees will act once in office. John Roberts, the new Chief Justice, may be the greatest thing to ever happen to the Constitutional republic. Or the worst. The same could be said for President Bush's new nominee for associate Justice, Harriet Miers. As the appointments of Earl Warren and William Brennan were Eisenhower's biggest mistakes in a relatively successful Presidency, so Roberts and Miers may be Bush's lone successes in a Presidency that has otherwise brought considerable harm to America and the world. Or, they may just add to the disaster. The problem isn't that we don't know for sure, it is that we can't even guess.
There are already questions about Miers's qualifications and philosophy - not just from Democrats but from conservative Republicans. Miers certainly has to prove herself, otherwise her appointment will prove to be another blunder by the Bush Administration. After the Cindy Sheehan debacle and the Katrina aftermath, you would almost think that Bush is deliberately throwing the 2006 Congressional and 2008 Presidential elections to the Democrats.
The Supreme Court and the federal judiciary in general, with its attending social issues such as abortion and prayer in schools, remains the one area where conservatives have the advantage over liberals. Conservatives are less likely to reinterpret the Constitution to fit their own ends. Liberals behave as though they barely know what's even in the Constitution; all they know is that "all men are created equal," "wall of separation between church and state" and "right to privacy" are in there somewhere - or at least should be in there.
Worse for Democrats, I don't think the base really cares all that much about these things. Democratic voters are more likely to vote on economic issues, whereas Republican voters are more likely to vote on moral issues, especially abortion.
That's why the Miers appointment may work in their favor. Conservatives generally kept quiet about their doubts whether Roberts would be a genuine conservative. But Roberts, a Washington establishment figure, had an impressive resume. His appointment was politically astute, so conservatives decided, ,"wait 'til the next one." But the next one turns out to be a less than well-qualified Bush crony with no record at all.
Have conservatives finally "had it" with Bush? Let's look at Bush's record:
This is not your Daddy's conservatism. Heck, Bill Clinton's liberalism was more conservative than this. But through it all, Bush's tax cuts and his judicial nominees to the federal bench preserved support from conservatives. But now, with 55 Republican votes in the Senate and two chances to nominate reliable conservatives to the Supreme Court, Bush hasn't even nominated one.
It is right to ask - it was right to ask a long time ago - whether Bush's "conservatism" is actually that at all. Many pro-civil rights, pro-safety net liberals who came of age in the 1940's-60's feel lost in the world of social Marxism and special interest politicking that characterizes modern liberalism. I wonder if a similar feeling is being awakened among conservatives. "When I said I'm a conservative, I didn't mean this."
The ramifications could be significant. It's not a question of starting a new party, or a revolution within the Republican Party to reclaim its Goldwaterism. It might just mean that conservatives will stay home in 2006 and 2008. The Republicans control all the branches of government, but government grows ever bigger and more powerful. And now, Bush has apparently abandoned what was left of the conservative agenda with his Supreme Court appointments. What reason is there for conservatives to vote Republican, or to even vote at all?