Last week, after being embarrassed in the press for not having confirmed any federal judges this year, Senate Democrats finally allowed one appellate court nominee, Catharina Haynes, to be confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
If Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the man primarily responsible for the virtual confirmation moratorium in the 110th Congress, thinks this will appease the American people who want the Senate to live up to its constitutional duties, he couldn’t be more wrong.
The fact is that one appellate court nominee for the whole year is an abysmal record. Seven confirmations during the last two years of President Bush’s term, compared to the 15 confirmed during the last two years of President Clinton’s term, still calls into question the Democratic leadership’s commitment to the Constitutional process. And to ignore nominations like the four nominations to the Fourth Circuit, which is one-third vacant, further highlights many Democrats’ complete disregard for the public’s well-being.
In light of this and many other practices, it is no wonder polls show on average that over 70% of Americans disapprove of this Congress’ performance.
It’s not that obstructionist senators are voting down nominees; they are within their rights to do that. It’s that they’re not voting on them at all. In fact, they are not even holding hearings on them. As Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) pointed out on a recent floor speech, “Since September 25 of last year, there has only been one hearing for a circuit judge, and that was on February 21, in the midst of a recess."
Consider that there are currently ten Court of Appeals nominees pending and not one of them has had a hearing this year and you will understand why the American people’s frustration keeps growing while political games continue to be played.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) said in a recent statement that, “The Chairman’s unwillingness to even hold hearings on numerous judicial nominees is a gross dereliction of duty. It is disappointing that the committee is putting election year partisan politics ahead of its constitutional duty to give ‘advice and consent’ to the president’s judicial nominees. These delays are a transparent and political attempt to run out the clock on President Bush’s term.”
And that seems to be what is driving this gross negligence on the part of many Democrats, the hope of winning the White House this November.
In the meantime, failing to follow their constitutional mandate doesn’t seem to bother them. And the same goes for disrespecting each nominee as a person and ignoring the will of the people.
It seems Sen. Feinstein’s (D-California) call to reason fell on deaf ears when it comes to her own colleagues. During the confirmation hearings of Judge Southwick she said, “I think what sometimes gets lost in our debates about judicial nominees is that they are not just a collection of prior writings or prior judicial opinions. They are, first and foremost, people.”
That seems too high a thought in today’s politically charged climate. Sen. Leahy made that clear when he accused Judge Robert Conrad, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth District, of making anti-Catholic remarks, completely ignoring the fact that Judge Conrad is Catholic.
Sen. Coburn responded to Sen. Leahy’s attack by saying, “If Senator Leahy has concerns about Judge Conrad’s qualifications he should present those in the context of a confirmation hearing, where the nominee will have an opportunity to respond.”
To give Judge Conrad an opportunity to respond would seem to be the honorable and responsible thing to do, but those words seem to have left the Judiciary Committee a long time ago. Judge Conrad was nominated back on July 17, 2007, and no hearing has been scheduled on his nomination yet.
Even a Washington Post editorial recognized the judicial crisis we are faced with on the Fourth Circuit, saying, “the Senate should act in good faith to fill vacancies – not as a favor to the president but out of respect for the residents, businesses, defendants and victims of crime in the region the 4th Circuit covers. Two nominees – Mr. Conrad and Steve A. Matthews – should receive confirmation hearings as soon as possible.”
That “as soon as possible” was back in December of last year. And still today, not a single hearing on these nominees. One can only assume that there is no “respect for the residents, businesses, defendants and victims of crime in the region” as far as the majority leadership is concerned.
In a more recent editorial, the Washington Post calls it a “travesty” that Peter D. Keisler, who was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2006, has not had a vote yet. They also called Rod J. Rosenstein, nominated for a seat on the Fourth Circuit, an “unquestionably well qualified” nominee. When you have the Washington Post editorial saying that “it is time to stop playing games with judicial nominees,” you know the problem has reached absurd levels.
Isn’t it time to stop the nonsense? Isn’t it time for the well-being of the American people to be at the top of the Senate priority list?
Senate Democrats must consider their ways. They should reexamine their approach to judicial nominations because they too will be facing elections soon enough.
Senate Republicans, on the other hand, must consider how boldly they are willing to stand up and fight for “we the people.” How boldly are they willing to fight for the people of the Fourth Circuit?
Much has been said in the media about the American people wanting change. Well, the time for change is now, not November.
Let’s get an up or down vote on judicial nominees and restore the constitutional “advice and consent” process to its proper place.
Now, that would be change.