Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Roberts Riddle

On Thursday 29 September 2005 John G Roberts was confirmed as the next Chief Justice of the United States.

At one level, this was a victory for the President and conservative Republicans. Roberts is a former Reagan Justice Department official and carries impeccable conservative credentials.

But at a deeper level, this is a defeat for the pro-life movement and for social conservatives. Named to replace a justice on record for reversing Roe v. Wade, Roberts declined to state on an opinion on the case--his strategy was to run as a stealth nominee, and it was as a stealth nominee that he was confirmed.

It should be clear that the math on this strategy makes it extremely difficult for any progress to be made in overturning Roe v. Wade. If--as with President Clinton--anti-Roe justices like Byron White are replaced with pro-Roe justices like Ruth Bader Ginsburg; and if--as with President Bush--anti-Roe justices like Rehnquist are replaced with question marks like Roberts, then inevitably the pro-Roe wing on the court must grow and the anti-Roe wing must wither.

However happy many conservative may be with Roberts, it must be clear that Roberts is a can´t lose pick for the pro-choice movement. If he votes to reverse Roe, the pro-choice movement has lost nothing. If he votes to affirm Roe, it is a disaster for the pro-life movement.

Social conservatives are going to have to make it clear that this strategy cannot continue. Republican presidents have been absolutely dependent for victory on (normally Democratic) pro-life voters who have voted GOP in the hopes for pro-life Supreme Court justices. The next nominee to the US Supreme Court needs to be on record as opposing Roe v. Wade--or pro-lifers will be justified in withholding their support

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