- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

It is about abortion. And it is about the Supreme Court. Don't let anybodytellyoudifferent.All the hue and cry about Judge Charles Pickering's position on civil rights is a smoke screen. Indeed, the "borking" campaign against him really has nothing to do with Judge Pickering.

The thundering chorus of left-wing lies and Democratic distortions that has greeted Judge Pickering is unprecedented. The Mississippi judge was confirmed to his current federal circuit position by the Senate on a unanimous vote just 10 years ago. Judge Pickering has committed no wrong in the past decade that would give such ideologues as Ralph Neas of the Orwellian-named People for the America Way any ammunition against him. Instead, Mr. Neas and his fellow travelers have resorted to rummaging around in the distant past to try to smear the judge as a racist.

But the assault on Judge Pickering is unprecedented in another way: He is a sitting federal judge nominated to an appeals circuit bench. Can anyone remember such sturm and drang over an appeals appointment, especially when the appointee has a solid 10-year record at the federal circuit level?

The fight over Judge Pickering's nomination is clearly symbolic. Embittered by the failure of Al Gore to steal the election in Florida, left-wing interest groups vowed from the beginning to fight the "illegitimate" Bush administration tooth and nail and are making good on that threat. These activists are demanding that Democratic senators show their bona fides by opposing Judge Pickering, and those senators are heeding their master's call, even though all of them must know by now the fundamental falsehood of the charges against the judge.

The borking of Judge Pickering, however, is more than just a vengeful attack on the Bush White House or a liberal loyalty test for Senate Democrats. It is a test run for the titanic struggle expected if and when President Bush nominates candidates to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court.

Justice John Paul Stevens, a liberal, will be 82 in April, and conservative Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist is 78. And though liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is just 67, she underwent treatment for colon cancer two years ago, and her health is a continuing concern. It is likely that at least one of those justices will leave the bench in the next two years and, if Mr. Bush should win re-election in 2004, he will almost certainly have the chance to nominate two or three new justices to the nation's highest court.

The stakes could not be higher. For years, a five-justice conservative majority has directed the Supreme Court on key issues. While left wing groups might be willing to allow Mr. Bush a conservative justice to succeed Chief Justice Rehnquist, should he retire, those activists will go to the wall to prevent him from appointing a conservative to replace a liberal like Justice Stevens or Justice Ginsburg. Because if that should happen if the court reaches a 6-3 conservative majority, bolstered by one or two young conservative justices it could be decades before the left regains control of the Supreme Court.

Liberal activists seem to have understood the consequences of this far better than most conservatives. For months prior to the 2000 elections, liberal journals were full of articles emphasizing that electing Al Gore and regaining Democratic control of the Senate would help reverse the conservative trend the court had taken since the Reagan administration.

This explains not only the desperation with which Democrats fought that campaign (illegally keeping the polls open past closing time in St. Louis to allow more votes for the late Mel Carnahan), but also the recriminations against Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and his left wing supporters. By pulling votes from Mr. Gore, liberals charged, the Naderites had spoiled their chance to terminate the conservative Supreme Court majority.

Control of the Supreme Court is vital to liberals, because for decades they used federal courts to impose their agenda on a reluctant populace. Since the Reagan revolution, however, the high court has become less friendly to that agenda. In recent years, for instance, liberals have avoided appealing key federal court rulings on affirmative action for fear the Rehnquist Court would void all of the crypto-quota regimes now masquerading as "diversity."

And abortion, of course, is the biggest judicial football of all. The current Supreme Court has shown no intent to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. But two years ago, the court by a 5-4 vote overturned a Nebraska law against partial-birth abortion. If a pro-life justice were to replace either Justice Stevens or Justice Ginsburg, that decision might be reversed. Who knows what might be next?

Asked during the 2000 campaign to explain what kind of judges he would appoint to the Supreme Court, Mr. Bush named Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, the court's staunchest foes of abortion.

Liberals for whom "a woman's right to choose" is the sine qua non of freedom see what is at stake, and they're scared. The ruthless and unprecedented fight against Judge Pickering is a product of their fears.

Some have said that Judge Pickering is being "lynched." No, his nomination is being aborted.

Robert Stacy McCain is an assistant national editor at The Washington Times.

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