By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
The Christian right is feeling mighty betrayed these days by its preferred political party. But word of David Souter's retirement from the Supreme Court is a reminder that that history of the GOP betrayal is long and deep.
Souter was sold as a conservative by President George H. W. Bush, who appointed him to the bench in 1990. Bush's chief of staff, John Sununu, who, like Souter, is from New Hampshire, assured conservatives that the nominee would be a "home run" for their cause.
Two years later, Souter supplied the pivotal fifth vote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the landmark case that reaffirmed Roe v. Wade. (The decision also opened the door to new state-level abortion restrictions, a fact abortion foes rarely mention.)
The 1992 Casey ruling established Souter as the elder President Bush's biggest mistake, in the eyes of antiabortion activists. But the Christian right learned its lesson. Conservative Christians helped torpedo George W. Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court because she was a cipher, as Souter had been.
Learning from Souter helped the movement secure two unquestionably conservative Supreme Court appointments under the second Bush—John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Religious conservatives—and other kinds of conservatives—had learned not to blindly trust Republican White Houses with the high court.
Now, a few years later, the Christian right is feeling beleaguered. It is trying to persuade the GOP not to blame it for the party's sagging fortunes. It is feeling betrayed by Michael Steele's big-tent talk.
David Souter is a reminder that these sentiments are hardly new, that tensions between religious conservatives and the GOP date back decades. With the passing of the George W. Bush era, however, those strains are visible in a way we haven't seen in years.