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Toss Away the Left's Schedule Sheet

Why the president should wait to announce his Supreme Court nominee(s).

3:00 PM, Jul 8, 2005 • By DAVID M. WAGNER
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A nomination should be announced earlier only if Sen. Specter can be prevailed upon to promise (brief) hearings starting in early August, rather than waiting until September, and there are political hostages to make sure he keeps that promise. Hard to see what kind of hostages those could be: He's not going to run for reelection; maybe there are some Pennsylvania district court judgeships that he cares about; maybe he's a great believer in the Army War College facility in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which is slated for closing. I don't know--but don't rely on jurisprudential conviction to move the senator to expedite the nomination. He's been on the talk shows lately preening over his opposition to Bork. So, yeah, hostages.

There is another rule from the dominant playbook that should also be jettisoned: the rule against appearing to "campaign." Sure, a nominee shouldn't do whistlestop tours extolling original intent; but it would be self-defeating antiquarianism to eschew anything that could make him or her better known to the American people, as long as he or she does not discuss controversial issues that could come before the court (a reticence that he or she should also maintain before the Judiciary Committee, of course, as Justices Ginsburg and Breyer did). Nominees can and should do "lifestyle" interviews, sharing their catfish tales with Field and Stream, their cookie recipes with Oprah, their CD collections with Spin, etc. etc.

The leading lesson from the Bork experience, and also the Thomas experience, is that because the Supreme Court has arrogated most of cultural politics to itself, confirmations to it have become the most brutal alleyway of American politics. The "rules" that most players seem to assume call for an early nomination, delayed hearings, and a loftily detached nominee; but, however venerable in origin and laudable in theory these rules may be, the left has formulated its playbook around them, making them operationally part of the left's own strategy. There is no reason for President Bush to play by them.

David M. Wagner is associate professor of law at Regent University, and blogs at