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Roberts looks like a vote against Roe

The proverbial fly on the wall had a fascinating experience as President Bush decided to nominate John Roberts. The New York Times informed us that one candidate was rejected apparently because the president did not approve of his exercise regimen. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive on that score, but it seems odd to waste part of an hour-long job interview for the Supreme Court discussing running versus the elliptical instead of Griswold v. Connecticut.

The proverbial fly on the wall had a fascinating experience as President Bush decided to nominate John Roberts.

The New York Times informed us that one candidate was rejected apparently because the president did not approve of his exercise regimen. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive on that score, but it seems odd to waste part of an hour-long job interview for the Supreme Court discussing running versus the elliptical instead of Griswold v. Connecticut.

Bush ignored the importuning of his wife and of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to nominate a woman. Columnist Bob Novak now explains that the reason was simple: The woman under consideration was not anti-choice enough to suit the far right.

By contrast, Judge Roberts presumably is pledged to overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortion illegal. Roberts wrote a brief arguing, “We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled.” The leadership of every anti-choice organization in the country believes Roberts is committed to overturning Roe. The widely read conservative blog RedState.org summed it up this way: “There is also much we do not ‘officially know’ but privately are sure of. We at RedState know Judge Roberts is right on life.”

But while Roberts seems committed to overturning Roe, many critics seem to prefer a full-throated defense of the commerce clause to a discussion of the right to privacy and the right to choose. While I have nothing against the commerce clause and recognize its import for a wide variety of critical issues, the data make clear that there is no reason to shy away from Roe.

Americans agree on two key points:
1. Roe v. Wade should be upheld.

2. Roberts should state how he would rule on the issue.

Polls agree that less than a third of the public is in the Roberts camp, favoring the overturning of Roe. In June, Pew found 63 percent opposed to overturning Roe while only 30 percent supported a reversal. A few weeks earlier, Quinnipiac said 63 percent agreed with Roe whereas just 33 percent disagreed with the decision. Last Friday, the ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 65 percent wanted Roe to be upheld, compared to only 32 percent who wanted it overturned.

Moreover, voters insist that Roberts articulate his position. In the ABC/Post poll, 61 percent said Roberts should say how he would have ruled on past cases, while 64 percent maintained that Roberts should state his position on abortion.

There may be lots of reasons to oppose John Roberts’s nomination to the court, but his expressed desire to overturn Roe v. Wade is clearly one of the most important. Democrats would be remiss to neglect it.

Let me return briefly to last week’s column which argued that the fundamentals looked good for Democrats in ’08.

Understandably, some read this column with less care and attentiveness than they might, say, a canonical Bible text. As a result, a number of e-mails noted in more or less helpful tones that I erred in writing, “Since 1948, seven candidates, including Bush, have been incumbents seeking a second term for their party. Only one lost.”

Referring to my lack of familiarity with recent history or my inability to add, my correspondents noted that Carter, Bush the father and Ford all belonged on that list. While I do make mistakes, this is not one of them. I referred to “incumbents seeking a second term for their party.”

Bush senior was running for a fourth party term (after two of Reagan’s and one of his own), while Ford was seeking a third party term (after one of Nixon’s and one split between him and Nixon).

This is the central point. Incumbents running for a second party term rarely lose — one since 1948, three since 1860. However, nonincumbents trying to extend their parties’ control beyond two terms, as the Republicans will be doing in ’08, confront a difficult challenge. As the piece said, “Since 1948, there have been five such instances and the in-party (Republicans in ’08) has won only once” (Bush in 1988).

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982, including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) last year.