Let me preface: I go gaga for the Supreme Court. In the same way sports fans salivate over Joe Namath or Jackie Robinson, I gush over justices, past and present. And in a perverse way, I've enjoyed the recent hubbub over potential Supreme Court appointments. If Bush is elected, liberals fret, we can say goodbye to abortion rights.

But what the debate has overlooked is the 832 other federal justices whom the President also appoints. The Supreme Court is just the tip of the iceberg. What really promises to pierce the hull of civil rights, abortion laws and environmental protections is the hulking mass of the federal courts. Their combined caseload dwarfs the 300 or so decisions that the Supremies crank out annually.

What is most alarming about the federal court is that nearly one-tenth of the seats are vacant! President Clinton has tried to stuff appointments into these seats, but a Republican-controlled Congress has rebuffed him. With a Republican-dominated Congress, Bush's appointments should slide right through.

Since the botched election night, we have had a chance to truly measure George W. and view his disdain for rules, judges and the courts--that is, unless they serve as the means to his end. When the Florida Supreme Court unanimously declared that hand counts could continue, W cried foul. He called the court system irrelevant to the election process. Two days later, though, he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to help him out.

Sure, before the election went into extra innings, I suspected W would appoint justices with less compassion for civil rights than Attilla the Hun. But consider how the Bush pre-administration gang has used Florida's secretary of state as a puppet for their means. Why should we expect that the Bush administration will act any differently with its appointed judges?

While past Republican presidents have made some bone-headed appointments (Clarence Thomas is a far cry from legal genius), none have shown such a propensity for bullying the courts like George W. Moreover, no sitting President in thirty years has had such an opportunity to stack the federal courts--from the Supreme Court on down--with so many justices. We should be very, very afraid.