The best piece in the Washington Post’s A-section today is one headlined “Bork’s Shadow Looms Over Court Opening.” It explains how the conservative side was blindsided by the vitriolic opposition to a distinguished legal scholar who did not make it onto a relatively undistinguished Court: 

“’Robert Bork represented the moment when the left decided they were not going to defer to the president in allowing him to make over the court,’ said Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice, which was formed to support President Bush’s judicial nominees. ’And we’ve been at war ever since.’”

As the story makes clear, conservatives were stunned when the left unleashed its fury:

“The battle over Bork began July 1, 1987, when Reagan nominated him to succeed retiring Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. Bork was already well known for his role in the ’Saturday Night Massacre’; as solicitor general, he carried out President Richard M. Nixon’s order to fire Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox after two higher-ranking Justice Department officials refused and quit. Bork subsequently served as a federal appeals judge, making a mark as an ‘originalist’ who believed in interpreting the Constitution as its framers intended rather than extrapolating it to fit changing circumstances.

“Within 45 minutes of Bork’s nomination, Kennedy delivered a blistering floor speech that set the tone for the battle to come. ’Robert Bork’s America,’ Kennedy declared, ’is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government.’”

This time, conservatives are prepared. Let us hope that a second story in today’s Post (originally headlined that Senate Majority leader Harry Reid predicts a “consensus candidate”) doesn’t indicate that the White House, now supported by numerous organizations committed to having a principled justice who hews to the Constitution, is already showing signs of wanting to avoid a fight: 

“Key GOP and Democratic members of the Senate met this morning with President Bush for a first discussion of the upcoming nomination of a new Supreme Court justice, with Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declaring afterward that he was confident that a ’consensus’ candidate satisfactory to both parties would emerge from the process.”

The story adds:

“Also expressing views today was First Lady Laura Bush, who said she hoped her husband would pick a woman. ’I would really like him to name another woman,’ she said on NBC?s ’Today’ show, in an interview from Cape Town, South Africa, where she is traveling. ’I admire and respect Sandra Day O’Connor, but I know that my husband will pick somebody who has a lot of integrity and strength.'”

We love you, Mrs. Bush, but this is no time for gender politics.

We want the best jurist, and we don’t give a hoot about gender.