Sunday, July 02, 2000
Justices determine president
American Presidents come and go. U.S. Supreme Court justices are forever.
That simple fact of America's system of checks-and-balances may have something to do with who is elected president this year.
Al Gore knows that. You could tell he knows when, standing in the backyard of an unfinished suburban Columbus home last Wednesday, he suggested that the most important thing riding on his contest with George W. Bush might be which one of them ends up appointing the next three or four justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mr. Gore was ostensibly there to talk about his plan to give American consumers a tax break for buying energy-efficient homes and ditching gas-guzzlers for more fuel-efficent models.
About 15 people were gathered to hold a little roundtable discussion with the Democratic presidential candidate on the virtues of sensible energy consumption.
But when Mr. Gore, showed up, half an hour late, he pretty much ignored the roundtable folks and, facing the battery of TV cameras beyond them, declared that he had an announcement to make.
While paying as much attention to the roundtable guests as you would pay to a potted plant in your dentist's office, Mr. Gore pointed out that that very morning, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on two abortion cases.
One upheld the right of patients to enter abortion clinics unimpeded by anti-abortion protesters. The other slapped down a Nebraska law banning a late-term abortion procedure. The vote on both decisions was 5-4.
The next president, Mr. Gore, would appoint three or maybe four new justices of the Supreme Court. Mr. Bush has said justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are the two justices he would look to as models for appointment to the Supreme Court. Justices Scalia and Thomas, of course, are quite conservative and voted with the minority on the abortion cases.
That is why, the vice president said, if you support a woman's right to choose, you should vote for him. Because if ol' Dubya gets an appointment, the next 5-4 vote might swing the other way.
Mr. Gore managed to deliver this message without uttering the term late term abortion or, worse, partial birth abortion, as the pro-life people describe it. He doesn't dare utter those words, because even many pro-choice people find the procedure repugnant.
It doesn't seem to matter to Mr. Gore that Mr. Bush has consistently refused to bow to pressure from the
anti-abortion crowd in his party and say he would have an anti-abortion litmus test for Supreme Court nominees.
Nor does Mr. Gore seem to recall his stance when he was a U.S. senator from the considerably anti-abortion state of Tennessee when he voted the National Right-to-Life position 84 percent of the time while sending out letters to his constituents saying he opposed federal funding for abortions.
Today, national polls say that Mr. Bush is leading among women voters incredible given the stranglehold the Clinton-Gore team had on women voters in the 1990s. Al Gore needs to get them back. Maybe scaring them with an anti-choice Supreme Court might do it.
But the last time we remember the American people paying much attention to the Supreme Court was when a Senate committee was grilling Clarence Thomas about his pick-up lines.
Howard Wilkinson covers politics. He can be reached at 513-768-8388 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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