Roberts is an interesting pick; is Bush spoiling for a fight?
The fact Bush did not, as expected, nominate a woman might be significant. This is certainly an admin that will pick its fights, the polls say people want an up-or-down vote on the matter, and indications are the affable and easygoing Roberts will be hard to paint as a wacky extremist (but you can bet people are already trying) as opposed to someone a bit more strident like Luttig. Do the Dems really dare to filibuster this man? Do they dare oppose their base, who will surely demand it?
I think worst-case for the Dems is that they filibuster and Bush just never backs down (stubbornness certainly seems to be in character for the man), the “nuclear option” is not exercised, the issue drags all the way into the 2006 campaign season and Americans angry at partisanship being put ahead of the functioning of one of our most important institutions elect 60 +/-1 Republicans in the Senate, solving the issue pretty decisively. On the other hand, if Dems don’t at least make this very difficult, their base may go ballistic and perhaps even become Green Party voters in their impotent rage (I can see the arguments: “We’re obviously powerless anyway, so why not?”). I think they filibuster with a great show of reluctance and paeans to “protecting” rights/women/minorities, try to get the female vote stirred up with abortion rhetoric since Roberts is on the record saying Roe should be overturned (look for the phraseology of “back alleys” and “wirehangers” to pop up pretty often, especially from Ted Kennedy), but with some help from the Gang of 14 they eventually back down from the filibuster within a few months, before the GOP changes the Senate rules to force a vote. If the nuclear option is exercised, I think the minor power-grab (justified as it might be) ends up reflecting slightly negatively on the GOP in the minds of voters and becomes a regular DNC talking point.
Another fascinating bit of political drama will be Hillary’s reaction to all this. Will she steer a centrist course here? Or let slip the dogs of war? I can’t hazard a prediction. She doesn’t have a tin ear, but she’s not quite the politician her husband was. In this situation, he would chew his lip and say something grandly meaningless that made the whole party, if not country, swoon. She may stay in the background on this issue.
Interesting days ahead. Look for at least one mention of “constitutional crisis,” which will appear more and more often if this drags on.
UPDATE: I will make one more (fairly obvious) prediction: political blog traffic will gradually increase up till the Senate vote, then abruptly fall of afterward similar to what happened around the election. We nominate SCOTUS justices less often than we elect Presidents, and debate and discussion of the day's great issues is, after all, why the 'sphere is here.
UPDATE 2: This will be an interesting place to follow while all this going on.