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January 7, 2001
Supreme Ambitions

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Judicial Warning

Bush v. Gore was a warning bell to the nation that the Rehnquist Court has been transformed into a kind of supreme political weapon, ready to find the flimsiest legal rationale for rendering a judgment in favor of its conservative allies and against its enemies.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Iran-contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh - a conservative Republican himself - found his investigation of the Reagan-Bush administration's crimes frustrated by conservative federal appeals court judges in Washington who used legal rationalizations to protect their White House friends.

In his book, Firewall, Walsh called these conservative judges "a powerful band of Republican appointees [who] waited like the strategic reserves of an embattled army, a force cloaked in the black robes of those dedicated to defining and preserving the rule of law."

The same description could now apply to the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. Under George W. Bush, these conservative federal judges can be expected to consolidate their power as they refine their tactics for bending the "rule of law" to political ends.

"What is so wrong about the Supreme Court's even agreeing to take this case," said a former assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration, "is that their vote was a completely self-interested vote by the conservatives. They have ensured that they will remain in the majority, even increase their majority."

O'Connor's goal of becoming the first female chief justice exposes at least one of the very personal conflicts of interest in their having accepted the case. Scalia also has his eyes on the chief justice's chair.

"This decision is absolutely the most intellectually dishonest and transparent thing they could ever possibly do," added Washington defense and election law lawyer Stanley Brand, a Democrat.

Bush Hardball

The incoming Bush administration also appears ready to play hardball with the Democrats. Since the Dec. 12 ruling, Bush and his backers have added little substance to their campaign promise: "uniter, not a divider."

On Dec. 13, as Gore was giving his concession speech, Bush supporters stood outside the vice president's residence and shouted, "Get out of Cheney's house." Others are still selling T-shirts reading: "Sore Loserman," referring to Gore and Lieberman.

Rather than the widely expected middle-of-the-road Cabinet, Bush is packing his administration with conservatives. Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft is a particular affront to African-Americans, given that he played the race card in his losing 2000 reelection campaign and in his avowed sympathy for leaders of the Confederacy.

It seems Bush has decided to act as if he really won the election and is coming to Washington with a popular mandate.

On the other side, the end of the election battle  left millions of Americans burning with rage yet powerless to stop the overturning of the popular will. Some have voiced a quiet despair that their self-image as a free people has been stripped from them.

Jesse Jackson expressed the feelings of many when he held up a bumper sticker that read: "Al Gore Is My President!" Pouring out his anger, Jackson declared that he rejected Bush as the rightful president "with every bone in my body and every ounce of moral strength in my soul."

In recent days, unofficial tallies by newspapers have discovered Gore gaining more than 500 new votes in Florida, a total that puts him ahead of Bush. Increasingly, it's clear that Al Gore was the people's choice to be the 43rd President of the United States.

That popular will might have been respected if Sandra Day O'Connor had applied a reasonable interpretation of the law, rather than her political - and personal - self-interest.

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