Dayton v. Kennedy

Returning Senator Mark Dayton to the Ranks of the Idle Rich in 2006

12/15/2004

Does Dayton Prefer Scalia or Thomas for CJ?

Ryan H. Sager offers his thoughts on the corner into which the Democrats have painted themselves regarding the looming Chief Justice vacancy in this Tech Central Station column.

Whoever thought there'd come a day when the Democrats would launch a "Draft Scalia" campaign for Chief Justice of the United States? Yet, amazingly, that's just what's happening.

The campaign hit the news on December 5, when incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid went on NBC's "Meet the Press" and discussed possible scenarios should Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who's currently undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer, retire in the near future.

Scalia "is one smart guy," Reid told Tim Russert. "I disagree with many of the results that he arrives at, but his reason for arriving at those results are very hard to dispute."

That got the attention of some people in Reid's party. "Outrageous," fumed Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. "Ethics issues alone" should keep Scalia on the back bench, yelped the president of the liberal Alliance for Justice, Nan Aron.

Apparently, these folks missed Reid on NPR on November 19, when he first floated the Scalia trial balloon. "If [the Bush White House], for example, gave us Clarence Thomas as chief justice, I personally feel that would be wrong," Reid said. "If they gave us Antonin Scalia, that's a little different question. I may not agree with some of his decisions, but I agree with the brilliance of his mind."

And there, of course, is the rub. It's not likely we'd be seeing the nation's top Democrat giving big, sloppy kisses to one iconic conservative Supreme Court justice unless the purpose were to make a cuckold of another. Apparently, the Democrats are so terrified that President Bush will nominate Justice Thomas to helm the court that they're slyly offering up a smooth confirmation should Scalia be tapped instead.

What an odd spectacle. And what an odd admission. It's hard to avoid the obvious conclusion: Bush's habit of appointing qualified minority candidates for top spots in his administration is having a profound effect on American politics -- or, at least, top Democrats seem to believe it is having such an effect.

Thomas' appointment would fit a natural progression. Appointed by the first President Bush in 1991, Thomas has since become a leading champion on the court of strict construction of the Constitution. Asked what kind of judges he would appoint in the future, Bush has consistently held Thomas (along with Scalia) up as an example.

Nothing would be less surprising than for Bush to seek to elevate this man.

And how similar this is to Bush's relationships with his two most prominent minority cabinet appointments to date, incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and incoming Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

These are not token candidates. Bush is not using them as instruments to paint a cabinet that "looks like America." These are his confidants. These are the people he trusts. These are the people he respects.

How devastating it would be to the Democratic Party, its leaders are now seeing, were it to be a Republican president to appoint the first black chief justice in our nation's history.



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