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Keating on the Court

By Bruce Walker
web posted July 7, 2003

Democrats have made it quite clear that the battle for the Supreme Court is going to be a political battle. Republicans must respond by making it just that. This means nominating individuals who Democrats cannot reject without looking petty, bigoted and foolish.

One way, often discussed, is to nominate Miguel Estrada (or another conservative Hispanic) for the first vacancy open on the court. Compel Democrats to attack him, and because they cannot win a Senate vote, compel Democrats to filibuster Estrada.

While Republican efforts to generate Hispanic support for Estrada on the Court of Appeals have not been successful, the argument that "Democrats will not even allow the Senate to vote on the Estrada nomination" will produce much more discomfort.

Estrada could announce that if the Democrats do not even allow members of the Senate to vote "yes" or "no" on his nomination by a certain date, then he will withdraw his nomination. He should directly asked Hispanics through political commercials in Spanish-speaking media to grant him the same right that Democrats have granted Anglo nominees like Robert Bork.

Another tactic is to do what I suggested in an April 2002 ESR article. Nominate Vice President Cheney to be Chief Justice. He is a good, solid, articulate and respected conservative politician, and his calm in the face of camera - as shown in the Vice Presidential Debate - was magnificent.

Dick Cheney would be ideal for this, but so would several other conservatives. Dan Quayle, for example, was a senator and was also President of the Senate. Once mocked mercilessly, Vice President Quayle is now regarded as a bright, decent and honorable man.

Governors Engler of Michigan or Thompson of Wisconsin would also be choices that would cause Senate Democrats great heartburn (how do Democrat senators from those states vote against enormously popular former governors?)

There is one political figure who could defang the Democrats arguments about putting some right-wing extremist (blah, blah, blah) on the Supreme Court: former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating. Why? Several reasons.

The Murrah Building Bombing was the worst terrorist attack in American history at the time it happened. There was a strong suspicion at the time of the attack that the culprits were Islamic terrorists. Governor Keating had to balance the serious concerns of public safety, the integrity of the criminal justice system, and the need to maintain calm and sensible in the face of mass casualties.

Frank Keating

He performed his job admirably, and the entire nation - liberals and conservatives alike - praised how he handled this very difficult situation. As the Supreme Court weighs the rights of individuals and the needs of national security, the whole nation should perceive the need for a justice who can be fair and can also be perceived as fair.

Moreover, Governor Keating served in the Department of Justice as the second highest administrative official in that agency and he participated as Governor of Oklahoma in a nationally recognized simulated smallpox attack on America.

His credentials in understanding the nature of terrorism, his experience as a principal attorney for the federal government, and his calmness in the face of crisis make him perfectly suited to address those issues related to counter-terrorism which the Supreme Court will face.

Liberals oppose conservative nominees because of the alleged religious intolerance of these conservatives. Frank Keating is a social conservative with impeccable credentials, but he also resigned recently as the head of the American Bishops groups to investigate sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

Few, if any, social conservatives can make a more compelling case that they will rule according to what seems just and proper, and not be guided by their own religious affiliation or expressed religious faith.

This immunity from liberal attacks is reinforced by the overwhelmingly positive reception that Governor Keating received from the American people and even the liberal media for his handling of the Murrah Bombing and then the disastrous tornadoes that destroyed a significant part of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area.

His "likeability" and "trustworthiness" in public opinion polls would probably be as high as any individual that President Bush could name to the Supreme Court. Attacks on Keating would be perceived as mean-spirited and partisan - which, of course, is exactly what they would be.

Critically, the greatest revulsion at Democratic demagoguery would be greatest in the Great Plains and the Southwest - Oklahoma is considered a part of both regions - and Democrats in the Senate are particularly vulnerable in these states.

South Dakota, North Dakota, Arkansas and Louisiana are conservative states with two Democrat senators. Nebraska, New Mexico and Iowa each have a Democrat senator. It would be very difficult to convince the people of these seven states that the popular two-term governor of a state in their region was some foaming-at-the-mouth extremist.

Moreover, Iowa and New Mexico went for Gore in 2000 by paper-thin margins. Depicting Frank Keating as someone "out of touch with America" will not play well at all in either of those states. Compelling Democrats to either paint themselves into a corner or to confirm him as an "exceptional case."

President Bush doubtless knows this, but only politics will get conservatives on the federal bench. He needs to play very hardball politics, and nominating Frank Keating for the next vacant seat on the Supreme Court would be an excellent way to throw Senate Democrats a curve ball.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • Cheney for Chief Justice by Bruce Walker (April 8, 2002)
    It would be a hard one to pull off but Bruce Walker thinks Dick Cheney should be nominated for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
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