- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

It’s clear now that barring an 11th-hour bombshell, Judge John G. Roberts Jr. will be confirmed by the Senate to succeed William Rehnquist as chief justice of the United States. The sniping and griping from the Democratic side of the aisle will continue, but only as background noise.

President Bush’s decision to elevate the nomination of Judge Roberts from associate justice to chief justice — a sound decision in our view — means that a clearly evident conservative will replace a clearly evident conservative. If the ideological balance of the Supreme Court is to be tipped, it will be tipped by the appointment of a clearly evident conservative to replace Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who announced her retirement on July 1.

Mr. Bush often displays his sense of humor, but there were not a lot of laughs among conservatives when he mentioned Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a prospective replacement for Justice O’Connor. But the president was only kidding. We think.

The president’s little jest quickly united conservatives of different factions, who usually fight with one another, in strong opposition. “If the president picked Gonzales, it would break the heart of conservatives,” Patrick Buchanan, a staunch conservative and sometime presidential candidate, told the newspaper Human Events. “The appointment would be the deflation of the whole conservative movement, because the activists would feel that the president surrendered to [Sens. Charles] Schumer and [Edward M.] Kennedy. And it would be the beginning of the end for Bush among his base.” William Kristol, the neoconservative editor of the Weekly Standard, told Human Events that “[c]onservatives would be demoralized by a Gonzales appointment.”

On the day the president mentioned Mr. Gonzales, Mr. Kristol warned on his magazine’s Web site that “a Gonzales nomination would utterly demoralize many of [Mr. Bush’s] supporters, who are sticking with him and his party, through troubles in Iraq and screw-ups with Hurricane Katrina, precisely because they want a few important things out of a Bush presidency — and one of these is a more conservative Court.”

Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation reckons that a Gonzales nomination “would split the coalition that twice elected George W. Bush.” The attorney general, he said, “would be an in-kind replacement for Justice O’Connor, meaning he would be another justice who ‘grows in the job.’”

The president surely knows that if he turns his back on his base by nominating someone whose pro-life credentials are clearly suspect, he will invite a Category 5 hurricane of anger and recriminations.

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