Image: RNC lapel button
John Brecher  /  msnbc.com
Some delegates happliy wore this lapel button featuring Justices Alito and Roberts at the Republican convention in St. Paul this week.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 9/3/2008 5:17:41 PM ET 2008-09-03T21:17:41

“Thanks W!” proclaims the lapel button some delegates to the Republican convention are sporting this week in St. Paul.

Smiling from that button: Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito.

A group of conservative activists and GOP delegates got together in Minneapolis Tuesday on the sidelines of the convention to focus on the election’s highest stakes — as in the highest court in the land.

“Elections do have consequences,” said ex-senator Mike DeWine from Ohio, who was booted from his Senate seat in 2006.

Yes, it was a humdrum truism.

But the defeated DeWine himself exemplified the fact that the Republicans will likely be unable to stop Sen. Barack Obama, if he's elected president, from doing what President Bush did with his nominations of Roberts and Alito: staffing the high court with relatively young justices who reflect his views.

Still serving in 2043?
Roberts is likely to serve until 2043 if he is on the high court as long as the senior justice, John Paul Stevens, 88, has been.

“Justice Alito and Justice Roberts being on the Supreme Court are two entirely different people than would have been on the Supreme Court if the Democratic nominee (John Kerry) had won (in 2004),” DeWine reminded his fellow Republicans. “Very, very, very different.”

If some conservatives are doubtful about McCain, then McCain pals such as DeWine can argue there’s a compelling reason to vote for him.

“The next president, whoever he is, will really determine where the United States Supreme Court is going in the next few decades. And more and more people understand that as I travel around,” DeWine said.

For conservatives, whatever agony they have suffered due to some of Bush’s other decisions — the vast mega-billion dollar expansion of the Medicare program, for instance — Roberts and Alito made it bearable.

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Video: McCain blasts Supreme Court These court activists and Republican delegates gathered at St. Thomas University Law School to get a preview of a fascinating new documentary film by David Van Taylor called "Advise and Dissent."

Van Taylor plans to release the film as soon as the next vacancy opens on the court, which most observers expect next year, considering the age of Stevens and the reported restlessness of Justice David Souter.

The role of activist Manuel Miranda
Van Taylor’s film explains how the indefatigable former Senate staffer and conservative polemicist Manuel Miranda helped win the struggle to confirm Alito and Roberts and to stop Bush’s misguided, and he believes still hard to fathom, nomination of Harriet Miers.

Miers withdrew in the face of a revolt from conservatives.

The most telling moment in the film comes in a scene from late 2005, the final stages of the Alito confirmation battle. Miranda calmly says Alito’s approval by the Senate is assured.

“The bottom line is they (the Democrats) do not control the Senate,” Miranda says.

Today of course after the defeat of DeWine and other Republicans in 2006, Democrats not only control the Senate but are likely to gain four or more seats this November.

Would the Senate Republicans go all out to fight an Obama nominee to the high court? And would they fail just as surely as Democrats did in trying to stop Alito and Roberts?

“It very much matters who Obama nominates," said Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice, a right-of-center advocacy group that supported the Alito and Roberts nominations.

If Obama sends up someone like liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then “I think she could be stopped fairly easily because she has such radical views. We will need Republican senators” especially those not from the right wing “who are willing to put up a fight. It can’t just be the most conservative Republicans. If you had the proper resources to expose her record I think red-state Democrats would go running.”

“As long as we have more than 40 Republicans plus red-state Democrats, I think extreme nominees can be stopped,” he added.

Video: Supreme Court battle Would there be a Republican filibuster of an Obama nominee — after all the years Republicans spent saying "every nominee deserves get an up-or-down vote”?

“We haven’t thought about what we’re going to do in an Obama administration because we’re hoping not have to do it,” Levey replied.

A less alarmist view from Georgia
At the film was Georgia delegate Steve Dillard, an attorney from Macon who publishes the blog Southern Appeal.

Dillard, originally a Mike Huckabee supporter, did his law clerkship with conservative federal appeals court Judge Daniel Manion, who himself survived a grueling Senate confirmation battle in 1986.

Dillard takes a less alarmist view than do some conservatives of what’s in store if Obama wins on Nov. 4.

“No dramatic change in the Supreme Court” is his forecast based on the assumption that most likely high court retirees would be three members of the liberal wing: Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg.

Dillard’s expectation is Obama would simply swap one liberal with another.

But Dillard said whatever the forecasts of the experts might be, “there’s a real fear in the faith community of the Supreme Court being stacked with liberal justices.”

Dillard said grassroots Republicans are engaged on the judges issue. “I do think the judges issues matters — it’s not just legal nerds who care about it.”

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