I'll assume that, like me, you're more than a little surprised that John Roberts Jr. has been selected to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the US Supreme Court. Under the circumstances – those being a Republican Senate, Republican House, Republican President, and wave of irrational jingoism that has engulfed the general public – Roberts is basically as good as it gets for liberals.
Is he a moderate? Not really. Is he a liberal? Of course not. But given Bush's modus operandi for the past five years, we should all calmly realize how much worse this could be. Roberts is not a member of a creepy religious sect (unlike favorite ginandtacos.com whipping-boy Sen. Sam Brownback, who lives in a place called Ivanwald – which, aside from sounding like a concentration camp, is a male-only compound run by a subsect of Opus Dei). He lacks the neo-conservative jihad attitude that threatens to turn the Constitution into toilet paper. He has a far better understanding of the relationship between the law and average citizens than Robert "There is no such thing as a right to privacy" Bork and the like. He's never worked for a lobbying firm, corporation, or trade group. He has referred to Roe v. Wade as a legal precedent he is willing to respect. Face it, Bush isn't going to appoint Gloria Steinem. Under the circumstances, Roberts is more than palatable.
Democrats will kick Roberts' tires and make a big show out of confirming him grudgingly, but confirm him they will. It would require a nominee far, far more insane than Roberts for the Democrats to successfully bear the brunt of a year-long shitstorm of bad publicity while delaying the proceedings.
So what gives? Allow me to enlighten you for a moment.
The rush of wind you feel right now is every incumbent GOP Senator north of the Mason-Dixon exhaling (with RNC Chair Ed Gillespie chiming in). On the heels of the vehemently unpopular Terri Schiavo pandering by the GOP, the last thing the party could have tolerated was Bush forcing the issue on a lunatic-fringe Court nominee. Simply put, 2006 Republican Senate candidates in "blue states" or moderate Mid-America are already going to have the fight of their lives to get re-elected. To further burden them with a forced yes-vote on someone like William Pryor would be a death sentence for many. The Lincoln Chaffees and Rick Santorums of the world might as well post their resumes on Monster.com right now if that were to happen. So, first and foremost, the Roberts choice takes the 2006 race for control of Congress very strongly into account.
Secondly, it is believed that William Rehnquist is not going to last 4 more years. He's going to try, god bless him, but his health is so fragile that Bush can realisitically expect to have a second appointment before his term expires. By appointing Roberts now, he has created a situation in which he "has to" appoint a female to replace Rehnquist. He will argue that the 8-1 male superiority on the Court must be remedied when he appoints his old back-slapping Texas buddies (not to mention totally unqualified ideologues) Priscilla Owen or Janice Rogers Brown to replace ol' Cancer Bill. By appointing a sorta-moderate male now, he will place significant pressure on the Senate to confirm a conservative lunatic female in the future. After the 2006 elections, of course.
The one pitfall in this plan is the prospect that Rehnquist will refuse to die. He is more than adamant that he will never retire unless his health prevents him from doing his job. I believe it. He would have retired by now if he planned to do so. Bush is making a calculated gamble – he feels the odds of the 80 year old chemotherapy patient Chief Justice living until 2009 are slim. He may be right.
If he is, expect the Rehnquist replacement to be a truly appalling, unqualified person whose minority status will guilt the Democrats into confirming her (see also Thomas, Clarence). If Bush is wrong and the old fucker refuses to die, then his legacy on the high court will be nonexistent – Roberts for O'Connor will be, in the longest view, a wash.