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With the nomination of John G. Roberts Jr., President George W. Bush now stands on the verge of a lasting legacy as a president who changed the face of American law. After decades of division, Bush is about to secure a consistent conservative majority on the Supreme Court that will likely sweep away a host of doctrines in areas ranging from abortion to affirmative action to presidential powers. What is striking is the relatively timid response of Democratic senators to the nomination, given the impact of this change on the court and the country. The media have portrayed Roberts as some unknown being as if he sprang from the head of Zeus. Senator Joseph Lieberman stated last week that Roberts was clearly not as hardcore or extreme as some possible nominees. He did not explain the basis for his assessment. In fact, Roberts is well known in Washington, and his understated ways belie a deeply conservative viewpoint. I believe that Bush deserves such a conservative nomination after campaigning on this issue and that Roberts is an outstanding nominee. I even support many of the changes he is likely to bring in doctrine. However, from a procedural standpoint, the Senate appears on the path to a confirmation vote that will be done largely in the blind due to the refusal of the White House or the candidate to answer specific questions on his views in critical areas. If successful, the Roberts nomination may become the gold standard for future confirmations. The White House executed the nomination with brilliance. By keeping his name secret, the White House prevented Democrats from organizing any early attack. Instead, the airwaves were filled with well-orchestrated statements from senators and commentators about Roberts as a decent, loving and brilliant man. Roberts is one of a new, post-Robert Bork generation of young lawyers who has been long groomed for greater things by Republican power brokers. He has avoided controversial public statements and kept a low profile while working on conservative causes and cases. The first critical period of the Roberts nomination has already passed. The Bork nomination taught Republicans that the first day of a nomination fight is the key. Whoever controls it will likely prevail. This time the strange thing that happened the first day was that nothing happened. Democratic senators have been in open disarray for months over judicial nominations. Now, they seemed to be walking about in a daze. There are four ways to take down a nominee. You can challenge his qualifications, his intellect and acts of alleged misconduct. These first three areas tend to make for lethal hearings as shown in the Clarence Thomas hearings. A Roberts nomination removes these and leaves the most controversial: ideology. He is likely to refuse to answer specific questions on his positions on such hot-ticket issues as abortion. This will leave the Democrats fighting a suspected, but not confirmed, hard-right conservative. Incoherent positions The position of Democratic senators is becoming increasingly incoherent. If a senator believes that he should vote against a candidate based on his view of Roe v. Wade, then he can premise his vote on the nominee’s response. Yet various senators who have stated that they would vote on the basis of single issues like abortion have also indicated that they expect to vote for Roberts despite his clear refusals to supply such answers. It is a rather curious standard. More important, it is a lesson for future nominees: Speak your views only to God and the White House counsel. Ironically, Democrats appear less concerned with Roberts than with their base-which seems more organized and spoiling for a filibuster fight. Privately, Democratic senators are trying to downplay such filibuster talk. Thus, in a careful political kabuki, they plan to create a record to protect them from what is coming: sweeping legal changes affecting their constituents. The Supreme Court will be hearing cases on parental notice and partial birth abortion. Roberts will almost certainly vote against the pro-choice position in this area. When that happens, senators will need political cover. So, with a Republican majority and no filibuster, some senators will vote against Roberts while privately agreeing to a final confirmation without a filibuster. Of course, the Democrats may still find a severed head in Roberts’ office, but don’t bet on it. He and his generation of conservative stars have been groomed like bonsai plants by Republican horticulturalists. It will only be after he joins the court that the public is likely to get the full measure of John G. Roberts Jr. Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, where he teaches a course on the Supreme Court.

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