On Priorities, Judges, and Reasons for Hope

I’ve been pondering some of the posts at RWN this week and thinking about what conservatives have to be optimistic about.

Despite the fact that this year’s presidential election features a far-left Democrat against a RINO, there are still plenty of reasons for hope. One of them is that, despite concerted and extreme Democratic Party obstruction, President Bush has appointed hundreds of judges to the federal bench. I couldn’t quickly find a current count (if you can locate the figures please leave a comment), but even as of 18 months ago Bush had appointed 303 federal judges and justices who had been confirmed. Even older statistiics from three years ago give you a feel for the number of currently sitting (as of three years ago) federal judges appointed by each president:

The number of sitting federal judges, by president:

George W. Bush…205 [increased to 303 by18 months ago, and higher today]

Bill Clinton…350

George H.W. Bush…167

Ronald Reagan…273

Jimmy Carter…142

Gerald Ford…25

Richard Nixon…71

Lyndon Johnson…28

John F. Kennedy…6

As you recall, John Hawkins’ poll here earlier this week found that, among visitors to RWN who responded, “Putting in originalist Supreme Court Justices” was the second highest priority, exceeded only by security at the border without amnesty. I myself agonized a bit over John’s poll, but ultimately picked the judges as the most important priority because all federal judges are appointed for life. That includes not only Supreme Court justices, but federal appellate justices and trial court judges as well. That means that the potential impact of each judge extends for decades into the future.

Since federal judges are appointed for life, walking into a federal courtroom has a very different feel to it than walking into most state courthouses. Unlike state court judges who are aware that they will be standing for re-election eventually, federal judges don’t particularly care what you think about their rulings, although most do try to avoid creating reversible error since they are not fond of being reversed on appeal. What federal judges have the luxury of doing, to a degree unheard of in most state courts, is pursing their political philosophy year in and year out for decades, aided by law clerks who help them craft orders, findings and opinions that support their results. While the law is the law, there is usually considerable wiggle room for a judge.

A Rasmussen poll reported this week found that, for most Republicans, appointment of Supreme Court judges is the top priority for 30% of Republicans, second to the economy but more of a priority than the war in Iraq. (By the way, another Rasmussen poll found that the Democratic presidential nominee — Obama or Clinton — currently leads in the electoral college over John McCain, but not by a huge margin (200-189).)

Given that federal judges have lifetime appointments, should electing a president who will choose originalist federal judges be the absolute top priority? Well, maybe. But priorities can change on a dime. If we saw another major Al Qaeda 9/11-style attack next week, you can bet that eradicating Al Qaeda would rapidly climb to the top of the list of priorities for most Americans.

I’ve always found setting priorities, as well as setting generalized hierarchies of values, to be a somewhat frustrating process anyway, because I’m aware that such lists are heavily influenced by what is currently scarce or abundant — not necesarily what is most important in the abstract or for all time. For example, my current top priority list does not include getting plenty of fresh air, but if I accidentally inahaled a big chunk of steak, getting a breath of fresh air would rapidly move to the top of my priority list.

Winning the Iraq war isn’t a top priority for conservatives at the moment because it’s being handled satisfactorily — for now — thanks to the concerted efforts of America’s troops on the ground, officers, generals, and Commander in Chief. Ditto for avoiding another Al Qaeda attack. So far, so good.

Some areas that aren’t being handled satisfactory at all right now are the economy, illegal immigration and judges running amok. Hence, issues like these are at the top of the current priority list. (Yes, I know some aspects of the economy are just fine. But fuel and food prices are rising rapidly and we’ve seen the effects of a subprime mortgage crisis, so clearly the economy is not all sunshine and daffodils.)

What will become the top priorities for the right if Barack Obama becomes the next president, or if John McCain is elected? The priorities will depend on exactly which areas these gentlemen mess up first, and which ones they mess up the worst.

Frankly, I don’t see either Obama or McCain making any actual improvements over George W. Bush with respect to any of the major issues we currently face — do you? I’m not even sure half of Obama’s supporters really do. I think they just want a “D” behind the president’s name again. Under Obama or McCain, I see the prospect of numerous and varied new woes to be added to the ones we already have. If we’re lucky, the economy may improve with respect to fuel and food prices, but simply due to the ordinary self-correcting operation of the market.

I do forsee painful times ahead, but I also see opportunity, because there are always opportunities. If the presidency and Congress are controlled by well-meaning, destructive Democrats, there will still be opportunities to win races at the state and local level, which in turn will help build grass roots support for the next run at Congress and the White House.

In the years ahead, the right will have time to ruminate and ponder, and something good will come of that. But at the same time, it’s crtiical to keep pushing forward. With enough patience, even a raindrop can wear down a stone. And you’re more than a raindrop, aren’t you? If Democrats are huge boulders in the stream of progress, then the gathered force of the right is the rushing water that cannot be stopped and always finds another way.


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