Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Coming Storm: Stuart Taylor has an outstanding guide in National Journal to the Supreme Court fights that will come -- perhaps this year, certainly by 2005. The obvious tactic for the Dems these days is to slowly raise the level of partisanship -- and escalate the use of the filibuster -- to the point where any non-concensus candidate is a non-starter. As I've mentioned before, the risks are huge. First, they gamble on making a judicial filibuster an expected move, but they risk the public image of obstructionism, particularly if the GOP finally calls them on a filibuster, rather than backing down at a failed cloture vote. (I, for one, want to see Tom Daschle tell his troops to call the family and cancel the fundraisers in the home state because they'll be expected to take turns talking to an empty Senate chamber.) Second, a number of Senate Dems have already expressed reservations about setting a bad precident. Some of these are the forward thinkers who realize that any tactic the party legitimizes now will be turned about on them; others are more parliamentarians, who see such tactics as bad for the Senate in general. (On the right, these same concerns underlie the opposition to what Taylor calls the "nuclear option.")

Both sides have so much to lose, I think a tacit deal will be cut, or at least a de-escalation will be recognized. Bush will give up a conservative on the high court for a freer hand in lower court nominations (or vice versa, though that's highly unlikely). But nobody ever went worse than .500 by betting that politicians would be stupid. Equally plausible is that both sides continue to escalate and the center stays home in 2004. Various other scenarios are possible, but one thing appears certain: The Democrats don't like their chances in 2004 -- for either house or for the presidency. To some extent, they have to take the risk, they have to push against every nomination, they have to gamble on obstructionism. It's either an optimist of questionable psychiatric health or a Democrat party hack who can look at the current landscape and see anything other than GOP majorities in the cards for several cycles.

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