USAToday’s Peter Johnson notes that the blogosphere is getting its first chance at a Supreme Court nominee in Bloggers, on your mark.
No matter whom President Bush nominates to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court or whether Bush must replace her and ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who says he has no plans to step down, nominees are going to be fair game for bloggers.
This is a first; the Internet was in its infancy and bloggers weren’t around the last time there was an opening on the high court. That was in 1994, when Stephen Breyer was nominated by President Clinton and later confirmed to the court.
Gone are the days when it would usually take disparaging information from an insider to derail a judge’s nomination.Of course I’m mentioning the column because Johnson had the good sense to quote me, but his column begs the question, “What effect will the blogosphere’s coverage of the nominee have on the process, and will set a good (or bad) precedent for the future?”
On the whole I’m optimistic that the debates on the nominee in the blogosphere will be an overall positive, but partisanship and knee-jerk negativity may beat my optimism into submission. What’s worrisome is that the bar as to what constitutes an “unconfirmable nominee” has been set pretty low based on past Supreme Court confirmations.
At the Supreme Court level nominees like Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg were scuttled over ideology and marijuana use (respectively), and Justice Clarence Thomas barely made it through a confirmation hearing focused on a charge of sexual harassment. Looking beyond Supreme Court nominees, Clinton Attorney General nominees Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, and Bush Secretary of Homeland Security nominee Bernard Kerik, were all done in by failure to pay Social Security taxes on illegal aliens they employed as nannies. The Bush White House will presumably have the foresight to not nominate someone with a “nanny problem” or a drug history. The wild card is that, outside of those recent examples, no one quite knows what a mortal blow to a nominee looks like anymore.
The real question is not whether a cumulative dribble of defamatory information will accompany the President’s forthcoming nominee – past confirmation battles indicate that it will – but how far Senate Democrats will go in parroting the research of anti-nominee bloggers. Given their current state of cozying up the DailyKos’s of the left side of the blogosphere, it’s not unimaginable that Democrats, lead by Sen. Edward Kennedy, will become a sounding board for any and all Gannon-esq slime campaigns.
If you’re looking for an example of how the Internet will change the nomination process consider the 1987 confirmation battle of Robert Bork. During the Bork confirmation battle a row broke out over the release of his video rental records from a local DC video store. In 2005 the clerk at that video store will probably be a blogger, and will have anonymously posted the porn preference of the forthcoming nominee long before Blockbuster can seal those records from prying eyes. The real question is what the media and Senate Democrats would do with that kind of ill-gotten information today.
With all the money lined up, itching for a fight, I expect we’ll find out…
Update: Is Judge Edith Clement of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans going to be the choice? AP is reporting she’s a leading candidate, and The Washington Post reports that 5 of the names mentioned as possible nominees are from the the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.