Saturday, February 09, 2008

McCain, the Court & the Abortion Issue

I've liked John McCain for a while -- although I did support George W. against him in 2000.

Some of my friends now say that, if McCain is the GOP nominee this fall, that they'll either stay home, or that they'll even vote for Hillary.

I confess that I don't get it.

First, I'm basically a one-issue voter. Actually, that's not true. I'm a voter with what economists call "lexicographic" preferences. What that means is that, like a dictionary, I have a ranking of policies. The thing is, I don't trade off abortion against other policies (not unless life is involved, which it hardly ever is in equal measure to the human toll of abortion). So, in a dictionary, you don't trade off "Auror" against "Baal" just because "Baal" has "aal" in the second + position, and "auror" has "uror" in the second + position.

So, actually, I have preferences across many policy areas. It's just that abortion holds the "a" spot in my policy lexicon. So I'm unwilling to tradeoff tax cuts, or campaign regulations, or Iraq (unless it gets a lot bigger) against it. (I'd include immigration in that as well, but, if anything, I'm to the "left" (or the right, depending how you meausre it) to McCain on the immigration issue. I think that immigration to the U.S. is generally a good thing, and that current policies restrict it beyond what is reasonable.)

Given that abortion holds a privileged position in my policy lexicon, that means that who is appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court is pretty important to me.

So right now, it seems likely that there are four votes to overturn Roe v. Wade: Scalia and Thomas are explicit, Roberts & Alito are probable. To be sure, Roberts said that he believed Roe to be "settled law." But that doesn't mean that it can't be overturned. (We're playing probabilities here, recall.)

The thing is that the next president, in the next four years, will almost certainly appoint one Supreme Court Justice -- to replace the aging Justice Stevens -- and perhaps more than one. (Kennedy is getting up there as well.)

The most signficant replacement will be the one for Justice Stevens. Stevens nails down the "left" wing of the Court, along with Justice Souter (thank you GB #1). He was appointed by President Ford.

What that means is that whoever appoints Stevens' replacement will be able to affect the Court's median voter for perhaps 20 years or more. Justice Kennedy is now the "median" or pivotal justice on many constitutional issues, including abortion. But if the next president replaces Justice Stevens with a "conservative" justice, or even one more "moderate" than Kennedy, then that justice is the pivotal justice in five-justice votes, including on abortion.

To be sure, I concede maybe it won't happen. O'Connor, Kennedy, and Souter were bitter disappointments, given that the presidents who nominated them -- Reagan and Bush -- ran as pro-life candidates. But there is no other game in town. John McCain has a stronger pro-life record than GB #1. The Court doesn't need another Alito (not that I would complain if one were appointed), another Roberts would be sufficient.

If Justice Stevens is not replaced with a "moderate" to "conservative" justice, conservatives will have lost the opportunity to re-make the Court for another 20 years or more. That's why electing John McCain is critical in the fall.

And even if you don't believe that abortion is a privileged policy dimension, but nonetheless believe that constitutoinal language ought to be reasonably interpreted, then, again, a McCain appointee will almost certainly be better along that dimension than a Democratic appointee.

I don't understand other conservatives. For decades now, conservatives have said that they're with Christians on the abortion issue. I've personally been a bit suspicious, having interacted (very marginally) with "movement conservatives." I often felt as though they were willing to accept Christian support for their candidates, as long as Christians played the dupe, i.e., as long as we didn't expect "really" to win on abortion.

It seems to me that, now, the chickens have come home to roost. Conservatives who oppose McCain are not the Christians' friends on the abortion issue.

And I will not forget.


Blogger Kampfgruppe-H said...

Sure enough McCain has been a hard pill for me to swallow. However, not bad enough to vote for Hillary or Obama. I like your reasoning on the abortion issue, especially the next Supreme Court nominee. You're spot's critical.

February 29, 2008 8:21 AM  

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