The Supreme Court Rumor Mill Keeps On Churning

Paul Weyrich, who is definitely hooked in, has the scoop on a hot rumor floating around Capitol Hill: that John Paul Stevens intends to retire this summer:

“That rumor is that President George W. Bush will have another vacancy on the Supreme Court when the term ends this coming June.

One Senator claims he has specific knowledge that the vacancy is coming. The speculation revolves around 85-year-old Associate Justice John Paul Stevens. Stevens, as the rumor is embellished, supposedly let it be known that he is impressed with the caliber of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., as well as with that of Associate Justice Alito. Stevens supposedly told the White House that even though he is a Rockefeller Republican (he was President Gerald R. Ford’s only Court appointee during the period when Nelson A. Rockefeller was Vice President) he believes the Court would not move radically to the right should he depart.”

Weyrich says he doesn’t buy this, but he goes on to drop some interesting details about John Kerry’s fruitless attempt to filibuster Alito (emphasis mine):

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“Look at what happened to Justice Alito. Various Democratic Senators, such as Dianne Feinstein, of California, declared that there was no need for a filibuster. But as soon as Senator John F. Kerry, of Massachusetts, initiated one, she was the first to line up to support it. The same with Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid, of Nevada. He saw no justification for a filibuster on a prominent Sunday Talk show one week and was voting against cloture to support a filibuster the next week. No apology. No explanation. The far left now so controls the Democratic Party that it is in a position to make demands of even its senior Senators.

On the Republican side, Alito lost one, Senator Lincoln D. Chaffee, of Rhode Island. If there is another vacancy, and assuming the President nominates someone who has doubts about Roe v Wade, not only will Chaffee be gone but the Maine twins, Senators Susan M. Collins and Olympia J. Snowe, almost will be lost as well. That would bring the Republican number down to 52.

There always is the possibility, too, that the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, could find fault with the nominee and while he would keep his promise to vote the nominee to the Floor of the Full Senate, he might vote against the nominee there. That would leave Republicans with just 51 votes, 52 if Nelson supported the nominee. A 52-48 confirmation would put that nominee in line with Justice Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed by that margin.

What outsiders who look at voting records don’t comprehend is the piling-on effect. The vote against Kerry’s filibuster appeared overwhelming. My sources tell me that the Caucus came within two votes of finding the 41 votes necessary to sustain a filibuster. A shift of just two votes and Majority Leader Frist would have been looking at deploying the Constitutional Option for Alito rather than for the next nominee. Once it is determined that the vote is going a certain way (in this case they did not have enough votes for a filibuster) then all sorts of Senators who would have supported a filibuster pile on to end debate. So long as they knew the votes for cloture were there they piled on to make themselves look more reasonable. Even the usually accurate talk show host Rush Limbaugh saw that large vote to end the filibuster as a repudiation of Senators Kerry, Kennedy and the others. It was not. It was a bow to reality.”

This shows why the Republicans in the Gang of 14 really blew it. Had they voted for the nuclear option, the Democratic threat of the filibuster would have been off the table. But, imagine the situation we could be in if we lose 2-3 seats in November, including guys like Santorum, who were ready to vote for the nuclear option the first time around. Suddenly, the Democrats could be in a position to block conservative nominees to the Supreme Court and the GOP simply may not be able to muster the votes to stop them. And you can be sure of one thing — if the Democrats come to the conclusion that the GOP can’t trigger the nuclear option, they will filibuster again. You can take that to the bank…

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