Column: Choosing the fight

By Matt Simmons

Last week, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean wrote an Op-Ed piece, which was sent to newspapers across the country, calling for Americans to take action opposing the nomination of Judge John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. While I am usually a supporter of Dean, I must break ranks and reject his call. The Democrats should know that it is against their interest to make this confirmation into a huge drawn-out debacle.

I am by no means a supporter of John Roberts. He will most likely have a very narrow interpretation of the equal protection clause and the right to privacy, two Constitutional concepts that have been consistently used to protect individuals from tyrannical government policies. Having said that, this is not a fight the Democrats need to pursue. First of all, the Democrats need to be careful in opposing Roberts. Republicans have been very successful at framing Democrats as negative obstructionists. Former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle D-S.D. was ousted from the Senate largely because he was the orchestrator of obstructionist tactics such as this. Republicans will most likely paint Democrats as obstructionists to government policies during the 2006 midterm elections, and picking a fight over Roberts will only add more fuel to the fire.

Still, many liberals are afraid of Roberts. But he will not make that big of an impact by himself. Even if he and another conservative join the Court, the outcomes of many major decisions might not change. Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case that made it illegal to criminalize sodomy, was a 6 to 3 decision; there would still be at least five justices on the bench who would support that decision. Also, there will still be at least five justices who will support the Roe v. Wade ruling, which recognizes a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Furthermore, it is unlikely Roberts would vote to overturn either one of those decisions, especially Roe v. Wade; Judge Roberts has said that the 1973 ruling is “settled as a precedent of the court.” President Bush would not have appointed anyone who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Pro-lifers tend to vote Republican and will continue to do so even if Roe v. Wade is not overturned. However, the overturning of the ruling could shift a lot of libertarians away from the GOP and persuade the pro-choice majority to support Democrats. This is a risk President Bush and other Republicans do not want to take.

Nevertheless there is a chance that Roberts could become a right-wing ideologue. There also is a good chance that President Bush may be able to appoint one or two more conservatives to the Court. Still, I am OK with the possibility that the Supreme Court will show restraint and defer to the will of the people. Liberals have become too dependent on the Courts to protect their values, and the focus should shift away from the elitism of the Courts and take their causes to the people. Instead of hoping that the Court someday rules that states must recognize gay marriages, liberals should take a lesson from California. They should leave the courtrooms and work to and educate the public in hopes that the people will elect representatives who will stop discrimination. The same thing can be said for conservatives; if they are so convinced of the negative impacts of affirmative action on our society, they should use democratic methods to stop it instead of hoping the Court will strike down such policies. The courts should be the last resort to bring change in laws and policies, not the first.

The Roberts nomination should not be a priority of the Democratic Party. Its leaders should instead turn their attention away from opposing the President’s court nominees and concentrate on developing a positive message that appeals to the American people. If not, you can count on the GOP to continue to benefit from framing Democrats as obstructionist.

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    Matt Simmons is a senior in LAS. His column appears every Thursday. He can be reached at [email protected].