But a book released a week ago Tuesday, on the same day President Bush delivered the State of the Union Address, reminds conservatives why his most important and lasting legacy may be the federal courts, and specifically, the U.S. Supreme Court. A Big Campaign Promise Kept

It's easy for conservatives to be depressed and demoralized these days.

Republicans suffered overwhelming defeats at the polls in the midterm elections last November.  The President's approval rating, as measured by the Newsweek poll, fell to the "lowest point in the poll's history" (30 percent) after he gave his State of the Union Address a week ago Tuesday.  And, if you turn on any news channel or pick up any newspaper, you will likely hear or read about the "failures" of this Administration -- if not worse.

But a book released a week ago Tuesday, on the same day President Bush delivered the State of the Union Address, reminds conservatives why his most important and lasting legacy may be the federal courts, and specifically, the U.S. Supreme Court.

The book, entitled "Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court," tells the story of how President George W. Bush was able to keep his promise to his political base of seating reliably conservative jurists on the highest court in the land. 

Indeed, as the author, Jan Crawford Greenburg, recounts with insightful detail, this was no small feat since at least three, and possibly as many as five, of President Bush's predecessors had failed miserably in their attempts to move the Supreme Court of the United States decidedly to the philosophical Right.  Most notably, as the book points out, the father of the current President decided not to appoint Kenneth W. Starr, of Independent Counsel and Solicitor General fame, in favor of an unknown and untested jurist by the name of David Hackett Souter. 

That is a decision conservatives cannot forgive, since Justice Souter has become a liberal stalwart on the High Court, even more so since that fact could have been predicted from his jurisprudential sympathies on full display during his confirmation hearings back in 1990, as Greenburg explains.

The book also dispels the oft-repeated myth that Justice Clarence Thomas settled into life on the High Court by following the lead of the Supreme Court's then-most conservative member, Justice Antonin Scalia.  Using information obtained from interviews with sources inside the Court, including nine former and current justices, as well as the papers of Justice Blackmun, which were recently made public, Greenburg tells the story of how, from "his first conference," Justice Thomas was willing to "be the lone dissenter," remaining true to his conservative principles.

Despite his willingness to go it alone, Justice Thomas often did not appear alone in his conservative dissents when opinions were announced because his views would persuade other members of the High Court to join him, often Justice Scalia, Greenburg explains.  In fact, Justice Scalia "changed his vote to join Thomas for the second time in less than a week" during the first two conferences in which Justice Thomas participated. 

As Greenburg wrote in the Wall Street Journal, previewing her book, "[i]f either justice changed his mind to side with the other that year, it was Justice Scalia joining Justice Thomas, not the other way around."  In other words, from day one, Justice Thomas was the model of jurisprudential integrity and consistency conservatives have come to know in the decade-and-a-half he has sat behind the grand mahogany bench.

Perhaps the most revealing news Greenburg provides in her book is her detailed behind-the-scenes coverage of the selections, nominations, and confirmations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito.  Of course, this comes as no surprise given the fact that the former Chicago Tribune reporter and current ABC News legal correspondent led the Supreme Court press corps with her coverage of those judicial nominations back in 2005, when they were occurring.  Nevertheless, it is terribly interesting and informative to learn that Chief Justice Roberts almost was not asked to interview with President Bush, and that Justice Alito was the favorite of White House Counsel Harriet Miers, who was initially nominated for the vacancy.

Regardless of the reason for picking up the book, however, Greenburg's work is a must-read for conservatives because of the reminder she leaves us with in the end.  "George W. Bush ended up placing two of the most conservative justices on the Supreme Court in years," she writes.  "Although their outlook on the law and the proper role of the Court may be similar to that of Scalia and Thomas, their impact on its direction over the next three to four decades will be more substantial. ... George W. Bush and his team of lawyers will be shaping the direction of American law ... long after many of them are dead."  It's a promise President Bush kept -- and a big one we should remember.

February 1, 2007
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