Rehnquist is Dead. What Does It Mean?

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It is a sad day for Chief Justice Rehnquist's family and friends, and all who knew and respected him and his long and distinguished career. May he rest in peace.

When I heard the news last night, a picture came to mind of Bush and company convening for celebration. The picture was of celebration not over the Justice's death, but over Pres. Bush's opportunity to name the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for the next 3, 4 or more decades. Of course, tomorrow the President will come out subdued and somber over the death of Justice Rehnquist, and he will attempt to help the country celebrate Justice Rehnquist's life and contribution to our nation. If President Bush holds Justice Rehnquist up as a symbol of the kind of service and dedication which all hard-working, law-abiding citizens contribute to our society, it will be a great speech and touching moment.

Politically speaking, fears and anxiety will permeate the Democratic Party; indeed all Americans who lean toward social equality and individual rights against the intrusion into their personal lives by the awesome power of our federal government. It will be a day for rejoicing for some conservatives who will view the opportunity of a Bush appointed Chief Justice as a conservative windfall. If these reactions carry forward into the Senate advice and consent confirmation hearings, they will be rancorous hearings to say the least, but there is much more at stake.

Is such rancor really necessary? Are such reactions as fear and rejoicing at the prospect of Bush nominating the next Chief Justice warranted? The fact is Chief Justice Rehnquist was a conservative. A conservative will no doubt replace him. John Roberts, very much a conservative as well, will replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor who was conservative on most issues but less than conservative on others. The balance of the court in reality will tilt more to the right, but not dramatically so. The person sitting as Chief Justice does not traditionally dictate the actions or votes of the other sitting justices, and does not alone set agendas for which cases will be heard or not.

There are rulings in which O'Connor's vote swung the court toward the left. Those issues, if coming before the Bush nominated court again, may be reversed. Though she voted with a 5-4 majority in the case that gave the contested 2000 presidential election to G.W. Bush, she was on the majority side when the court upheld the right of women to have an abortion if their health were in danger.

It is this abortion issue which will be front and center in the minds of both Democrats and Republicans at the confirmation hearings. At the heart of the abortion issue is government madated morality and limiting of choice which a citizen has over their body, their future, and their role as mother vs. the empathy which other citizens have with unborn fetuses. It is a Constitutional issue, individual rights vs. the power of the state. Just the issue to make the potential of a filibuster very real. And that makes the potential of Republicans invoking the 'Nuclear Option" also very real. The nuclear option should be avoided at all costs and Americans on both sides of the fence should urge their representatives to insure that it does not take place.

The slippery slope of the nuclear option is one, which can, and very likely will take America to one party governance, in which approximately half, or more American citizens have no voice or representation in government. This is inherently dangerous for the peace in our land. Once the nuclear option is unleashed, depriving the minority party of the filibuster on judicial nominees, it will almost certainly rear its ugly head again and again on other Senate decisions which the majority party insists it must have passed, filibuster be damned.

Our nation runs the risk of moving headlong toward becoming a democracy in which tyranny of the majority goes unchecked and becomes unstoppable if we allow removal of the power to filibuster. One of the the primary checks and balance against one party rule, is the minority party. Without the filibuster, the minority's power to check majority excesses will evaporate.

Chief Justice Rehnquist's death marks a window of opportunity for those controlling the machinery of American politics. That opportunity is to either preserve the checks and balances of our government, which the founding fathers saw as absolutely a prerequisite for safe government, or unleash powers by a majority party in which the power and tyranny of the King could again be exercised against its own people and to the detriment of their liberties and unalienable rights. There is reason for anxiety and concern.

But, their is no room in the upcoming Senate confirmation hearings for hysterics, and hyperbole which entrenches the two parties to their respective divisions unable to compromise and bipartisanly serve and represent, and act as voice for all American voters regardless of political affiliation. Hurricane Katrina was deadly and horribly damaging. But with time, Americans can recover from Katrina. The same optimism may not be warranted should Justice Rehnquist's demise send our nation down a slippery slope toward tyranny.

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This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on September 4, 2005 1:47 AM.

Katrina: '06 - '08 Elections was the previous entry in this blog.

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