Bush Appoints His Mountain Bike as Next Chief Justice
(09-05) 08:02 CDT WASHINGTON (AP)
President Bush on Monday announced a surprise choice to succeed William Rehnquist as chief justice of the Supreme Court. Following the lead of the Roman emperor Caligula, who tried to appoint his horse as Consul of the Roman Empire, the president has nominated his beloved mountain bike to a seat on the high court. The bicycle, named Incitatus, is expected to face a difficult confirmation in the Senate. Critics charged that the speedy announcement was an attempt to shift attention from the administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina.
Incitatus, a Trek Fuel 98, is best known as the president's favorite workout partner. The mountain bike, if confirmed, will be the most-inexperienced Supreme Court justice in history. Unlike every previous Supreme Court justice, Incitatus is not a lawyer and has never held a job.
In recent decades, most high court justices had served on federal or state courts of appeal — Rehnquist was the only member of the current court who had not. Historically, Supreme Court justices usually have been experienced political figures, and those who weren't politicians or judges were prominent attorneys or legal scholars. However, the Constitution has no minimum qualifications for Supreme Court justices.
The White House portrayed Incitatus's inexperience in a positive light. "Tater doesn't have elite credentials, but he has a good heart," Bush said in a televised announcement. "He'll be a justice for regular American folks. The important thing is, Tater is a strict constructionist, thanks to his carbon frame." The president called on the the Senate to confirm Incitatus before the Supreme Court opens its fall term on Oct. 3.
The president attempted to deflect charges that Incitatus would not be independent. "Tater can stand on his own. He has a kickstand," Bush said. "And he's thrown me off of him twice. Nobody in the Democrat party has done that."
Senate Republicans were quick to praise Incitatus. "He will be the best chief justice of my lifetime, maybe the best ever," Tom Cornyn (R-Tex) said. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, "I don't care that he never attended law school. Neither did Abraham Lincoln." Trent Lott (R-Miss) compared the black bicycle to Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. Rick Santorum (R-Penn) sniffed Incitatus's bicycle seat and declared, "He is an excellent choice."
Senate Democrats had mixed reactions. "That bicycle has never even seen the inside of a courtroom," Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) said. "Incitatus is absolutely unqualified to serve on the Supreme Court."
Dick Durbin (D-Ill) called the nomination "an attempted distraction from the administration's mis-handling of Hurricane Katrina." Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) issued a statement saying that Incitatus's repair records would be carefully examined to ensure that the bicycle did not steer the court hard right. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn) offered support for the nominee.
Advocacy groups geared up to offer their own spin. Liberal groups expressed dismay, and voiced concerns about the bicycle's qualifications and independence. A spokesperson for People for the American Way saw a silver lining, saying, "It could have been worse. We were expecting the president to appoint John Roberts as chief justice."
Most conservatives were enthusiastic, but a spokesperson for the Traditional Values Coalition said, "Incitatus is a bi-cycle, which is just as bad as a gay-cycle. He doesn't belong underneath the president's buttocks or on the Supreme Court."
Ever since he saw the controversial 1979 biopic, Mr. Bush has expressed admiration for Caligula, who historians portrayed as "a crazed megalomaniac given to capricious cruelty and harebrained schemes." When asked why the president did not fully emulate Caligula by naming a horse to the Supreme Court, a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, replied, "That was the original idea. And the president is happy with the leadership of his his horse expert. But the president has always been afraid of horses, even before he tried to milk a male horse."