Novak: Bush is Biggest Obstacle to a Conservative Court

Bob Novak argues in his column today that President Bush’s stubborness, not Senate Democrats, is the biggest obstacle to a conservative Supreme Court. Also of interest: He’s hearing that Chief Justice Rehnquist will step down within the week.

Bush is biggest obstacle to a conservative court

Conservatives who have spent more than a decade planning for this moment to change the balance of power on the Supreme Court are reeling from blows delivered by two dissimilar political leaders: Edward M. Kennedy and George W. Bush. Sen. Kennedy has succeeded with the news media in establishing a new standard of ”mainstream conservatism” for a justice. President Bush has put forth ”friendship” as a qualification for being named to the high court.

Bush is by far the bigger obstacle in the way of a conservative court. While Kennedy’s ploy presents a temporary problem, Bush’s stance could be fatal. The right’s morale was devastated by the president’s comments in a USA Today telephone interview published on the newspaper’s front page Tuesday: ”Al Gonzales is a great friend of mine. When a friend gets attacked, I don’t like it.” Bush is a stubborn man, who sounded like he might really nominate Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in the face of deep and broad opposition from the president’s own political base.

Adding to the tension is word from court sources that ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist also will announce his retirement before the week is over. That would enable Bush to play this game: Name one justice no less conservative than Rehnquist, and name Gonzales, whose past record suggests he would replicate retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on abortion and possibly other social issues. Thus, the present ideological orientation of the court would be unchanged, which would suit the left just fine.


Gonzales would not exactly be another O’Connor, but he is still considered a disaster by Republican conservatives. He also is the best Democrats can hope for. The 35 Democratic senators who voted against Gonzales’ confirmation as attorney general will not have to turn around to provide enough support to place him on the Supreme Court, because he can be confirmed without their votes.


The Founding Fathers put the Senate ”advise and consent” clause into the Constitution partly to combat cronyism. In Federalist No. 76, Alexander Hamilton opposed the president’s nominees ”being in some way or other personally allied to him.” Thus, the wonder in Washington is that a peeved Bush would defend Gonzales’ selection on grounds of personal pique. So much is at stake in these Supreme Court nominations that surely the president must realize this situation transcends loyalty to a friend.

One would hope. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case with this president.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Brooklyn Dave says:

    The bit I’ve been reading on various blogs concerning Novak’s comment shows some criticism. Personally I thing Novak is right. Bush does suffer from a bit of buddyism.