For his many years of service to the nation, William Rhenquist deserves our greatful admiration. He was undoubtedly a capable and beloved Chief Justice - leading the court through its conservative 'renaissnance' of the past 25 years.
But Rhenquist really screwed the pooch.
When he first became ill with cancer, Chief Justice Rhenquist should have retired. The US currently has a Republican administration committed to nominating justices in the mold of Clarence Thomans or Antonin Scalia - folks Rhenquist would have been proud of. Instead he decided to stay on at the Supreme Court until his death, and made the selection process much more difficult for the President. Now Pres. Bush is in a tough fight selling his nominee, Harriet Miers, not only to Democrats, but to conservative Republicans as well, who question not only her judicial and constitutional philosophy, but her credentials to serve as well.
But imagine if Rhenquist had resigned back in early 2005.
Initially, things might have seemed more difficult. It was certainly a tough time for the President, putting things back together after a difficult election campaign. Even in the wake of victory, there was a fragility to the national political conscience, and increasing worry about the fate of Iraq and the global War on Terror. An all-out fight over a Supreme Court nominee might have seemed a risky endeavor.
But the President would have had many tools at his disposal that he no longer has. For example, if Chief Justice Rhenquist had retired, Pres. Bush could have chosen a woman to take his place. A strong conservative in the mold of Maura Corrigan, Alice Batchelder, Edith Jones, Priscilla Owen, or Janice Rogers Brown. While these would have been a tough sell to liberal Democrats, the President would have had the added political benefit of nominating a women to fill a man's seat (thus increasing the representation of women on the court) and inviting this woman to be our nation's first female Chief Justice.
Assuming the success of such a nomination, the President would have exchanged one solidly conservative Justice with another of even greater political gain. This would have left someone like John Roberts available to fill the seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Conner. Of course, Justice Roberts was initially tapped to fill Justice O'Conner's seat, and while it would certainly have been a difficult nomination process, the benefit of not having to nominations back to back would certainly help, and Justice Roberts seemed like such a strong candidate from the beginning that he was destined to succeed.
Thus, by refusing to retire early enough, the late Chief Justice Rhenquist has unwittingly made Pres. Bush's task much more difficult, and potentially robbed the President of the ability to enact the conservative shift on the court that so many have so long desired.
So, Mr. Chief Justice, may you rest in peace...but gosh, if you haven't made things difficult!
Grace & Peace