Rudy’s judicial bargain

Before a packed crowd of conservative legal minds, Rudy Giuliani promises to nominate the right kind of judges.

Topics: 2008 Elections,

At the core of his presidential campaign, Rudy Giuliani is offering conservative Republicans a deal: In exchange for electing him as the first Republican president in modern American history who is pro-choice and has a pro-gun control record, Giuliani will seek to nominate judges that lean toward overturning Roe v. Wade and striking down gun control laws.

It’s the sort of bargain that makes your head hurt, if you think about it too hard. But in the realm of presidential politics, where message can trump biography, it’s a strategy that just might work. All Giuliani has to do is keep saying the same thing everywhere he goes.

On Friday, he came to the National Lawyers Convention of the Federalist Society, a group of legal scholars that has been working for years for a conservative revolution in jurisprudence. Before a gilded room of about 1,000 at the Mayflower Hotel, he made veiled promise after veiled promise. “I’m going to give you 200 reasons why the next election is really important,” he told the crowd of pinstripes and wingtips. “It’s the 200 federal judges that the next president of the United States will likely appoint over the four years in the White House.”

So what would Giuliani’s ideal judges look like? They would be people like “Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts,” the four most conservative judges on the current Supreme Court. He then got even more specific. He said he believes judges should view gun ownership as “an individual right,” limit the federal power to seize private property for public purposes, oppose “racial quotas,” leave the word “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and allow the mention of the “10 Commandments” in the public square.

Then he went even further, adopting a cause célèbre of many conservative legal activists: opposition to the Senate tradition of requiring 60 votes to approve a judicial nominee. If elected president, he vowed to pressure the Senate to do away with the age-old practice of filibustering judicial nominees. “The next president is going to have to call on the Senate to change its rules, and ask the Senate to really take seriously what ‘advice and consent’ means,” he said, in reference to the constitutional clause that requires Senate approval of presidential appointees. “What ‘advice and consent’ means is that someone [who] is sent there by the president should get an up or down vote within a reasonable period of time.”

So there you have it. Mission accomplished. After the speech, Giuliani accepted a gift, a gilded copy of the Federalist Papers, and disappeared through a curtain — off to the next conservative audience where he can again offer the same assurances that he will bring a legal philosophy to the White House that stands in marked contrast to his record as New York’s mayor.

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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