With up to two vacancies on the US Supreme Court possible by the end of the month, Senate Democrats have offered to consult with President Bush as he selects nominees in order to avoid a long, drawn-out confirmation battle in the Senate. However, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales wrote in a letter to Senate Democrats that “the Senate will have an opportunity to assess the president’s nominee and to vote up or down,” nothing more, according to the Los Angeles Times. Notably, Gonzales did not refer to the Senate’s constitutional “advise and consent” role in confirming judicial nominees. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) referred to this clause in describing the judicial nominee process as a “50-50 deal,” wherein “the president, in this process, is not more important than the Senate, and the Senate’s not more important. They have to work together,” she said, according to the LA Times.
Democrats such as Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (SD), Ranking Minority Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (VT), and Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (NY) sent letters to President Bush suggesting a bipartisan process for selecting court nominees. “I stand ready to work with you to help select a nominee or nominees to the Supreme Court behind which all Americans, and all Senators, can unite,” wrote Sen. Leahy. Given Bush’s record in selecting right-wing, reactionary judicial nominees for the circuit courts of appeals, many are concerned that he will nominate a far-right conservative for a seat on the ostensibly politics-free Supreme Court. The LA Times reports that Republicans and conservative scholars have reacted to the Democrats’ proposal as if it is a “novel new approach,” to use Gonzales’ phrase. However, Leahy noted that Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), chair of the Judiciary Committee under Clinton and currently, has taken credit for advising Clinton to nominate current Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer to avoid a “tough, political battle,” according to Leahy’s letter.
Of particular concern is the narrow margin in the Supreme Court in favor of a woman’s right to a safe, legal abortion. Even one new Justice who opposes Roe v. Wade could overturn the longstanding ruling. In a recent ABC News poll, nearly 75 percent of respondents on both sides of the abortion issue felt that Supreme Court nominees should reveal their position on abortion rights during confirmation hearings. A full 50 percent believed that the nominee should support abortion rights. Among women, 52 percent favor a nominee who supports abortion rights, compared to 47 percent of men.