Friday, July 08, 2005


ChiTrib: High court fight threatens to derail Bush's agenda

Court protestorProtestors of all stripes have appeared in front of the Supreme Court building, shown at left.
By Jill Zuckman, Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President Bush finally has an opportunity to reshape the Supreme Court more to his liking after almost five years in office, given the departure of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the possible retirement of Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

But Bush's reward may come at a big cost, as his second-term legislative agenda, already facing major obstacles, is likely to founder while the Senate focuses on one or two furious confirmation battles.

"Legislators have a limited attention span," said Darrell West, a Brown University political scientist. "They can deal with one big issue at a time, and the court battle is going to be so ferocious it's going to suck all the oxygen out of the system. There's not going to be room for discussion of anything else."

One of the first casualties may be Bush's plan to overhaul Social Security--his top domestic priority. Despite six months of coast-to-coast campaigning by the president, his proposal has been met with unease by Republicans and with low approval ratings from the public.

Similarly, immigration reform, another pet issue for the president, is unlikely to emerge out of the Supreme Court thicket, partly because Republicans are split over how to address the issue. One faction is eager to liberalize the system to bring in people willing to take low-wage jobs, a position Bush supports, while the other side wants to crack down on illegal immigrants in the name of national security.

O'Connor's retirement comes at a time of deep distrust between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, with each side accusing the other of acting in bad faith and for purely partisan purposes. Depending on whom Bush nominates, the rancor could get worse.

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