McCain and Judges

Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) speech today at Wake Forest in North Carolina represents a real attempt by the Republican presidential hopeful to outline a judicial philosophy that will appeal to the sometimes skeptical conservatives who make up an important part of the GOP base and to contrast his views with those of Obama and Clinton.

Those who haven’t read it should. It is a serious attempt to lay out the candidate’s thinking on a crucial issue, and while some are characterizing it as merely an attempt to “woo” the right, if he means what he says, it has to be taken as much more than that. It doesn’t answer every question or concern conservatives have raised about McCain on the issue of the role of the courts, how he would go about selecting nominees and his willingness to accept the fact that fair-minded judges who read and understand the Constitution might decide differently than he would — but it answers a lot of them.

Although McCain has supported every recent conservative appointee, he raised eyebrows during the primaries by offhandedly observing that while he enthusiastically supported John Roberts, he found it troubling that Sam Alito was perhaps too explicitly conservative. He seemed to be leaning in the direction of favoring nominees who lacked the “paper trail” Democrats in the Senate have successfully picked apart in going after them.

In this speech, McCain suggests not only that he sees Roberts and Alito as the “models” for his nominees, but that he will look for men and women who both share his view of the role of the judiciary and have a clear record. As a conservative, I applaud this stance, as all too often those who lack a “paper trail” are, well, mediocre ciphers who shouldn’t even be considered for such appointments.

A potential president’s view of the role of the judiciary and the ways in which he or she might go about selecting judges and, indeed, Supreme Court justices is especially important to conservatives. This speech, while it won’t “seal the deal” with conservatives as far as enthusiastic support for McCain is concerned, should go a long way toward removing questions about what he will do from the table and strengthening his argument for support from conservatives who may disagree with him on other issues.

In virtually every discussion among conservatives about whether McCain deserves more than a simple vote this fall is the question of the possible consequences of creating a situation allowing someone like Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to reshape the Supreme Court. This speech puts the GOP candidate squarely on the side of conservatives concerned about this and will make it more rather than less likely that they may ultimately end up working enthusiastically for his election.


Keene is chairman of The American Conservative Union, whose website can be accessed here.