Expect Bush to tackle judicial issues

Published 9:11 am Wednesday, December 8, 2004

By By Steve Flowers Guest Columnist
The Republicans have strengthened their power in Washington with the Bush reelection victory. They have the presidency, the Senate, and the House, and some say the Supreme Court.
What does this November victory at the polls translate to in terms of public policy over the next four years? The Republican gain of four Senate seats gives them a 55-45 majority, better than the current 51-49 divide, however, short of the magic 60 votes to be filibuster proof.
The Democrats and Republicans will still fight over judicial nominees. During Bush's first term, Democrats successfully blocked 10 of his judicial nominees to U.S. Appeals Courts. This battle of the Courts will continue to be the most contentious partisan struggle. It is expected that as many as four of the nine United States Supreme Court seats will be open for appointment by the president. However, they must all be confirmed by the Senate. It is in these Court confirmation wars that the course of America's policy on social issues will be waged. The issue of abortion and gay marriage will ultimately be determined by the federal courts.
Bush owes his reelection to conservative evangelical Christians. He will more than likely honor this courtship with an all-out effort to appoint socially conservative jurists.
His zeal will be met by just as determined Democratic opposition. These obstructionist tactics have caused the most bitter partisan bickering in Washington over the past four years. Republicans are claiming that it is the obstruction of the Bush conservative appointments which cost the Democrats seats in the election.
One of the Senate's most socially conservative Republicans, John Cornyn of Texas, said, "I'm wondering if they have the heart to try again?" One of the Senate's most liberal Democrats, Charles Schumer from New York, answered, "Absolutely." The battle of the courts may begin soon, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist seriously ailing from thyroid cancer, Bush could make an appointment soon.
Bush may also quickly move on two economic initiatives. He will propose to change Social Security to allow younger workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes themselves. This is a bold economic move. With his Republican majority and fresh victory, he may be successful. The Democrats will fight on this issue.
The big victory may come with tort reform. This was Bush's hallmark legislative success as governor of Texas. He is ferociously anti-trial lawyer. He fought for this issue over the past four years. He lost by only one vote in the Senate on a very tough anti punitive damage bill. The vote he lacked was our own Richard Shelby's. Shelby is the only Republican Senator to vote with the trial lawyers. However, Shelby may not matter this time. The four Senate seats Bush helped pick up in the Senate should all vote for national tort reform. School may be out for the trial lawyers nationally.
There will be no real fight over gun ownership. The gun owners solidified their position in November. They will be able to have any gun they want. The National Rifle Association won in every battle. The Democrats will not have power or heart to fight this battle.
The battle over abortion and gay marriage will be decided by the Courts and may be years in the making.
The war over economic issues like Tort Reform and Social Security reform will be waged early in the Legislative halls. You will have reform or not on these fronts within two years. You may have an internal struggle within the Republican Party where real fiscal conservatives in the Party will call Bush's hand on the federal deficit he has run up. The issue of Iraq will continue to haunt Bush.
This war and the national debt will cause Bush heartburn throughout his second term. The next Republican presidential nominee will be shackled with this legacy, which may make it hard for Republicans to win in 2008.
Steve Flowers writes a weekly syndicated column on Alabama politics. He served 16 years in the Alabama House of Representatives. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.usa.

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