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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Bush gets another chink in his conservative armor

The Bush administration's schizophrenic view of what conservatism means became even more convoluted with his decision to file briefs in a case involving Anna Nicole Smith.

Ms. Smith was a 26-year-old stripper in Texas when she met, and ultimately married, 89-year-old oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II.

The legal issues are not nearly as interesting as the personalities involved, but they are significant.

Ms. Smith won a federal-court verdict of $474 million in a dispute over her deceased husband's estate. A federal appeals court threw her claim out, ruling that a state court should have decided the dispute.

Smith lost in Texas state courts, which found that Mr. Marshall's son was the sole heir to his father's estate, so her only hope to collect millions is in federal court.

Political conservatives should be thrilled with the federal court's ruling. Rather than stretching the law as a means to erode the state's authority and increase federal authority, it deferred to the state-court system.

But the Bush administration is backing Ms. Smith's claim. A federal court, the administration argues, should decide the issue. The state, it argues, must defer to Washington.

If President Bush's conservatism is something other than a tool to attract votes, it would seem that he would be looking for ways to wrest power away from federal courts and return it to the states. His pro-federal stance in the Anna Nicole Smith case is a chink in his conservative armor.

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