On the Supreme Court, McCain is no "maverick"

John McCain's stance regarding judicial appointments shows he's unlikely to buck his party on the issue.

By Justin Jouvenal
May 20, 2008 1:58AM (UTC)
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John McCain has built a reputation for bucking the Republicans' party line on campaign finance, global warming and a handful of other issues. But when it comes to nominating Supreme Court justices how much of a "maverick" would a President McCain be? According to two recent analyses, the answer is not very, even despite McCain's role in the "Gang of 14," a group of senators who organized a compromise on President Bush's judicial appointment, which angered some conservatives. In fact, McCain's Supreme Court appointments might look a lot like President Bush's.

The question is important because the next president will likely nominate at least one justice: The court's oldest members, John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- both of whom lean to the left -- are of retirement age.


Both the New Yorker and the Los Angeles Times took a careful look at McCain's May 6 speech on his judicial philosophy, and both came to strikingly similar conclusions. In the address, McCain listed Bush's conservative Supreme Court picks, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, as models, and said he would select only judges that strictly interpret the Constitution.

Writing in the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin says the speech was a "dog whistle for the right" and that McCain "plans to continue, and perhaps even accelerate, George W. Bush's conservative counter-revolution at the Supreme Court." David G. Savage, in the Los Angeles Times, sketched out what it might mean if a McCain nominee replaced Stevens or Ginsburg:

With conservatives in full control, the court would probably overturn Roe vs. Wade and the national right to have an abortion. The justices also could give religion a greater role in government and the schools, and block the move toward same-sex marriage.

Savage sharply contrasted McCain's view of the Supreme Court with Barack Obama's. Obama has previously said the current court has moved too far "toward the powerful against the powerless," and he has spoken favorably of the court's liberal wing. Given the court's current conservative tilt, Savage says that if he's elected Obama probably won't be able to move it left, but by appointing liberal justices he may be able to preserve the status quo and mantain abortion rights and the strict separation of church and state.

Justin Jouvenal

Justin Jouvenal is an editorial fellow at Salon and a graduate student in journalism at New York University.

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz. Supreme Court