"A knockdown, drag-out fight"

Harry Reid says the tenor of the coming Supreme Court confirmation process is the hands of the president. He's only half right.

Published July 8, 2005 8:53PM (EDT)

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid says that George W. Bush can control the Supreme Court confirmation process to come. If he selects an extremist nominee, there will be a battle. If he doesn't, there won't be. "As to whether or not there's a knockdown, drag-out fight on this is up to the president," Reid said on a trip to Las Vegas Thursday.

But that's only half right. While the kind of nominee -- or nominees -- Bush names will surely shape the debate that follows, the thing has already become a "knockdown, drag-out fight." On the day Sandra Day O'Connor announced her resignation, MoveOn launched an ad connecting the dots between Bush's Supreme Court pick and his ill-fated intervention in the Terri Schiavo case. A week before that -- which is to say, even before O'Connor made her announcement -- the right's Progress for America was up with ads warning that Democrats were "hungry to smear" any nominee who didn't fit "their left-wing, extreme litmus test."

The airwaves are the early battleground, but the fight will move to the Senate soon enough -- and in some sense, it already has. The Family Research Council began airing a radio ad today in which it calls on Sens. Chuck Schumer and Edward Kennedy to recuse themselves from the confirmation process on the grounds that they've made up their minds already. "If a judge ruled in a case before hearing any of the evidence, she wouldn't be much of a judge," the ad says. FRC's Tony Perkins says he's outraged by Matt Drudge's report that Schumer was overheard on a cell phone saying that he was preparing to "go to war" over the Supreme Court. "It seems, from the overheard phone call reported by the Drudge Report, that Sen. Schumer's ultimate goal is to fulfill his own personal political agenda and refute any nominee who doesn't live up to his specified litmus test," Perkins says in a post on FRC's Web site. "Legislating from the bench is Sen. Schumer's objective. He will do whatever it takes, regardless of who the president nominates, to disrupt the judicial process."

Bush and Reid are still talking about a "consultative" process that will lead to a "dignified" proceedings in the Senate. But with the well so thoroughly poisoned already, the odds that events will actually play out that way seem awfully long from here.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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