E.J. Dionne, Jr. thinks it raises the stakes:
By proposing that Roberts lead the court, Bush has given the liberal groups that oppose the nomination (and Democratic senators inclined to join them) a chance to regroup and argue that this battle is no longer a practice session for the next round. This is the next round.
"Now that hes been nominated for chief justice, hes not a test case anymore," said a Senate Democratic staffer close to his partys discussions. "Theres a difference between being one of nine and Number One of nine. And if hes confirmed, hes likely to hold the job for the next generation."
I have two thoughts. First, the underlying political calculations havent changed for most Senators (with the possible exception of Mary Landrieu, who may have an interest in being difficult after having made pro-Roberts noises in the past). Few, if any, will move from support (in the face of the full-court press by the legal Left) to opposition just because Robertss title will change. To say that the new title requires a heightened standard of scrutiny, as Dionne and legal Left do, is a sign of desperation on their part.
Second, this new line confirms the notion that no one takes the "maintaining the balance" argument seriously. After all, replacing Rehnquist with his former clerk simply, for the moment, maintains the status quo, which folks like Senators Reid and Schumer had insisted was so important.
I think that
this article has it right:
[W]ith conservatives and liberals alike saying that Roberts is on track to be confirmed, the focus was already shifting to what both sides believe will be the real battle: Bushs yet-to-be-named pick to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day OConnor.
But of course this "real battle" has been waged ever since the President nominated John Roberts. And the Democrats and their interest group allies have lost.