Many conservatives, including folks over at the National Review’s Bench Memos, De Novo, and some notables at the Weekly Standard, are up-in-arms about the potential nomination of Alberto Gonzales. The most hilarious creation of this Gonzales-gonzo-scare has to be the phrase, “Gonzales is Spanish for Souter.” Clever. Always the contrarian, I would love to see AG2 make it to the Supreme Court.
Now this of course is conditional. I agree that under no circumstances should Bush trade AG2 for Rehnquist. That would be a disaster, effectively returning the court to 1973 (as Ramesh notes, given AG2’s stance on Roe). Indeed, Gonzales may be a bit too wishy-washy on social issues for the conservative base. This is a lifetime appointment we are talking about.
What if the Weekly Standard scenario does unfold, and we get AG2 for Justice O’ Connor. That wouldn’t be a bad swap, and it would still allow Bush to appoint a real conservative (i.e. Luttig) to replace Rehnquist.
This brings us to the question of political capital. One of the major strikes against AG2 is the ridiculous amount of political capital it will cost Bush in order to get him confirmed. Bush will have to fend off critics on the left who will reignite the Geneva Convention debate, which will prove especially ugly given the recent push to shut down Gitmo. On the right, Bush will have to convince his social-conservative base (to whom he promised strict constructionists) that AG2 is conservative enough to merit a lifetime appointment, and to convince them to trust that they will not get Soutered otra vez.
But what if Bush can fend off the fiends and get AG2 on the SCOTUS? What are the implications of such a historic move? We’re talking about the first-ever Hispanic (eh) Supreme Court justice. Dems will have Thurgood Marshall, and the GOP Alberto Gonzales. As the amount of Hispanic voters continues to grow, it will be incumbent upon the GOP to take the strides necessary to lock this bloc up. Alberto Gonzales is well-respected in the Hispanic community, even securing the support of (by no means GOP-leaning) Hispanic groups like La Raza. The future effect of this move could help solidify a Republican majority in a potentially tumultous 2006 and beyond. The GOP is in danger of losing the Senate majority next time around (subtract Santorum, Chafee, Burns, and Frist’s seat from the majority), and being able to court more Hispanics with evidence of outreach and respect for the power of the new bloc could be just what we need to hold on to power. Sorry for being so Machiavellian here, but one must do what one must do lol.
Some might argue that there are more conservative Hispanic judges out there. They could potentially serve the same function as a Justice Gonzales. However, the problem with them is precisely that they are conservative. They are less likely to have the amount of support within the community that AG2 enjoys, and they will more probably be seen as GOP tools. This will surely backfire.
Plus, going back to political capital, what does Bush need all this political capital for, anyway? It doesn’t look like he will get his way on Social Security. He doesn’t need much for Iraq, because he has done most of what he has wanted to do there already. As was noted by Kristol, what more could he ask for in a legacy than a Gonzales Court?
If Rehnquist retires on Monday, as is expected, I would expect to see Luttig nominated. If O’ Connor retires any time soon, I would like to see AG2.