Arkansas' junior senator, Mark Pryor, never seems so junior, or so transparent, as when he when he goes after his GOP colleagues for -- gasp! -- playing politics with judicial nominations.
This time Republican senators are holding up the confirmation of a perfectly good, indeed outstanding, Arkansas judge for the federal bench: Denzil Price Marshall. Among some 80 other nominations to the federal bench. But two months after the judge's nomination sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously, it still languishes. How come?
Low partisan politics, says Sen. Pryor. With indignation. As if it were something novel and shocking to his innocent sensibilities. "There's just no place for this in the Senate," he huffs. "There's no place just to play partisan political games with these judicial appointments, especially if you have someone who is very well qualified and very uncontroversial, which we have in Price Marshall."
The junior senator is shocked, shocked!
It's as if Mark Pryor had forgotten the name Miguel Estrada. Some of us never will: That rising young star was more than very well qualified for an appointment to the federal bench; he was being talked about as a future Supreme Court judge, and he had the makings of a great one.
The Honduran-born Estrada, who arrived in this country as a 17-year-old with only a limited command of English, not only had intellect but hard-won experience to recommend him. Having graduated magna cum laude, from Harvard Law School, he'd served with John Roberts -- yes, that John Roberts, who is now chief justice of the United States Supreme Court -- in the solicitor general's office. He'd handled appellate cases there with the same remarkable skill and personal integrity he'd shown with the district attorney's office in New York.
It was only to be expected that Counselor Estrada would be proposed for the federal appellate bench -- and the influential court of appeals for the District of Columbia circuit at that. As he was in 2001. Hey, it's America. And the American dream. It was about to be fulfilled.
Ah, but Sr./Mr. Estrada has another, even historic, distinction that needs recalling every time Mark Pryor starts posing as a statesman. Miguel Estrada's was the first nomination to a U.S. court of appeals to be successfully filibustered in the U.S. Senate.
For there is such a thing as being too promising, or maybe just too Republican or too ethnic, to win confirmation. For there is also such a thing as prejudice against quality, too, particularly in politics. Once it comes into play, grounds can always be found to deny even a superbly qualified nominee a straight up-and-down vote. That is, any excuse will do when the motive is just plain, base partisan politics. Suddenly the nominee becomes "controversial," and his nomination is stalled month after month, till the months became years.
Just as Price Marshall's nomination is now being stalled by Republican partisans. Only temporarily, one hopes. Miguel Estrada's was held up indefinitely. Until, finally worn out by the waiting, he withdrew his name from consideration and went on to what is now surely a rich, full, real life instead of only a political one.
And, yes, you guessed it, prominent among those senatorial hacks who denied the American people the services of so bright and promising a nominee was ... none other than Mark Pryor, who now struts and frets upon the public stage about Low Partisan Politics. Now he says it's wrong to play "partisan political games with these judicial appointments." At least if it's a Democratic president's appointments to the bench that are being held up.
How do you spell hypocrisy? I'd suggest M-a-r-k P-r-y-o-r. For he exemplifies it whenever he prates about the evils of playing politics with a judicial nomination, a low sport at which he himself has excelled.
Senator Pryor admits his own role in delaying and even derailing Republican nominees to the federal bench, but tries to justify his new-found indignation at partisan politics because "[T]he problem, unfortunately, now is a lot worse."
Really? Can our junior senator be so junior he missed the clamor over the nomination of one Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court, and how it was savaged by Ted Kennedy and Partisan Co. in the Senate? That whole sorry spectacle gave rise to a new verb in the American language -- to bork. Which means to smear a nominee for high office with a viciousness unusual even in politics.
("Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids...." --Sen. Kennedy, July 1, 1987.)
Is the junior senator from Arkansas really so innocent of modern American history that he's forgotten all that? Or only pretending it never happened in order to justify his double standard? Now he claims to be against playing partisan political games. Really? Tell it to Miguel Estrada.
Whenever the junior senator from Arkansas expounds on his oh-so-high nonpartisan principles, all it should take is two words to see through his act: