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O'Connor as Chief? Very Funny

I can't say that I am looking forward to a spirited fight over the next nominee to the United States Supreme Court. My politics, such as they are, tend toward libertarianism. I am terrified that some religious or social conservative is going to get the nod and then ram his or her convictions down the rest of our throats.

But the looming battle is important, and it is an occasion to reflect on the meaning  of the constitution, and on the public ethos. The debate is important.

So why, then, is Senator Arlen Specter of the Judiciary Committee wasting his breath proposing Sandra Day O'Connor as the next Chief Justice? And why is Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont seconding the sentiment?

"She has received so much adulation that a confirmation would be more like a coronation, and she might be willing to stay on for a year or so," Spector told the weekend talk shows. Hello. We come together to honor a trailblazing woman and speak little or no ill of the retired. That is not a platform from which to run for chief justice.

Of course, Chief Justice Rehnquist has not yet announced his retirement, although the rumor mills are churning that an announcement is immanent.

I find the suggestion that we lure O'Connor out of retirement to be chief for a year or two to be the single most compelling proof of something akin to intellectual bankruptcy among centrist Republicans and liberal Democrats. It is depressing.

The real message? Pick O'Connor. Coax her to serve a year or two. Perhaps by then, Bush will no longer be president and the nomination can be made by someone unbeholden to the religious right.

I love the idea. But why would Bush be so stupid as to squander his chance to sculpt the future of the Court? I cannot see the president appointing O'Connor to appease a party that apparently cannot come up with a compelling candidate for the job.

If this is the best that Specter and Leahy can muster, it won't be much of a debate at the next confirmation hearing.

(Thanks to Brent for pointing out an error on Specter, which I have taken the liberty of correcting.)

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