Oh my, L-word used for Souter

souterdollI can hardly believe it. Here inside the Beltway (and the elite media that are honorary members of the Beltway tribe), it is very rare to hear a person tagged with THE L-WORD. I am, of course, talking about the word "liberal."

Normally, people whose political, and especially cultural, views are to the left of center are referred to as "moderates" and there are no "liberals," because the media contains few if any liberals and most politicians have the same basic cultural views as most journalists and, thus, they are "moderates." In recent years, we have seen a few "progressives" emerge.

Thus, I was shocked to pick up (in cyberspace) the morning newspapers and read statements like this one, from the Los Angeles Times, in in mainstream news reports:

Justice David H. Souter, a New Hampshire Republican who became a key liberal vote on the Supreme Court, reportedly plans to retire this summer, clearing the way for President Obama to make his first nomination to the high court.

Since the court has only one woman among its nine justices, most observers have predicted that Obama will select a woman for the first court opening. There is no obvious successor to Souter, and the administration has had just three months to sift through potential nominees.

Souter's retirement is not likely to change the court's ideological balance. He has been a reliable liberal on all of the major issues decided recently, including abortion, civil rights, religion, Guantanamo Bay detention and the death penalty.

Yes, he is a liberal. Especially on what issues? Please note that remarkable third paragraph. The word "religion" is very, very broad, don't you think?

It is also interesting to note, however, that the mainstream reports do not mention his church affiliation.

Think of it this way. Someday, when historians write the definitive histories of the "culture wars" era, which fact about Justice Souter will best describe his time on the court -- the fact that he was a New Hampshire Republican or a New Hampshire, Capitol Hill-parish Episcopalian? When you look at his record on the key, hot-button issues, I vote for the later.

Meanwhile, over at The Holy Writ of the Supreme Court class, Souter was -- once again -- described with the loaded label:

Justice Souter, who was appointed in 1990 by a Republican president, the first George Bush, but became one of the most reliable members of the court's liberal wing, has grown increasingly sour on Washington and intends to return to his home state, New Hampshire, according to the people briefed on his plans. ...

Replacing Justice Souter with a liberal would not change the basic makeup of the court, where he and three other justices hold down the left wing against a conservative caucus of four justices. Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate Republican appointee, often provides the swing vote that controls important decisions.

Hearings on a liberal appointee will be peaceful for another reason: Only conservatives are grilled about their views on abortion, since the court's position on that issue is known. Also, the Democrats are -- with the exception of a few heretics -- united on abortion, while the Republican Party is bitterly divided over the issue.

I imagine that Washington, D.C., will not go into full hurricane alert, chaos in the streets mode during these hearings, other than a few hardy pro-lifers who may dare to come out and pray in public. They may, this time, get into shouting matches with nuanced, moderate evangelicals. Times are changing.

Oh, the New York Times did include this obligatory statement:

During a campaign debate last fall, Mr. Obama said the selection of a new justice would be "one of the most consequential decisions of the next president." ... On the always explosive issue of abortion, he said he would "not provide a litmus test," but added, "I am somebody who believes that Roe versus Wade was rightly decided."

However, this appointment will not change the court at all. Thus, things will almost certainly be quiet here in Beltway land and in the press.

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