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Beyond the Judiciary

David Frum, in the course of thoughtful comments on Rudy Giuliani’s recent troubles, writes:

The single most important question pro-life Republicans need to ask themselves is this: What kind of judges and justices would the various candidates nominate, given the likelihood that they will face a Democratic majority Senate?

Giuliani has made the case for himself in similar terms. But isn’t this a strange argument on behalf of someone running for President—that on domestic social issues, the President is essentially just an appointer of judges?

The President of the United States runs the executive branch, and so is given an enormous amount of authority and discretion in the enforcement of the law, the promulgation of regulations, and the setting of federal priorities. This has a tremendous impact on every area the government touches, including the social issues that those pro-life Republicans Frum mentions care so much about.

It is easy to overlook the countless daily choices that an administration makes—about, say, enforcing Title X funding rules, or wording a regulation one way or another, or pursuing violators of a pro-life statute—but they add up, and make a big difference. If we do get more strict constructionists on the bench, as Giuliani says we should, these other policy calls will become more, not less, important. Purely political questions will be returned to the political branches of government.

The people charged with making and executing those countless small decisions can matter, and the person charged with appointing all those people—the President—matters a great deal, not only as a nominator of federal judges but as the chief executive of the federal bureaucracy. The tone he sets, the things he says, the people he hires, and the priorities he puts in place can all be crucial.

I can see the argument that other things should matter more than abortion and related social issues, especially in a time of war. But even for those people most concerned about social issues, is a candidate’s taste in judges really “the single most important question?” Shouldn’t they be concerned with his views and intentions more generally?


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