President Bush has nearly 100 federal judgeships to fill. If elected, these judges could make important decisions on tort law, abortion rights and environmental policies. Conversely, the failure to fill these judgeships could exacerbate an already overwhelmed judicial system and lower the gold standard for administering justice in this country.
That makes the nomination process for federal judgeships one of the most important and fiercely contested proceedings in government today. And while Democrats profess a commitment to filling the judicial vacancies and fulfilling the rule of law, they have spent the past several years torpedoing any conservative nomination to the circuit court or federal bench. The pattern is familiar: highly qualified judicial nominees are subjected to savage scrutiny, their character ripped to shreds, their good name smeared and their qualifications ignored.
"These are brilliant judges who are extraordinarily qualified by experience and training for this position," says Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) of Bush's judicial nominees who have been either savaged or delayed by Senate democrats. "Many of the charges against these judges are bogus and embarrassing. The American people must register their distaste for this conduct at the ballot box," he added.
Most recently, Senate liberals and special interest groups bloodied Priscilla Owens during her nomination for a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Just under a year ago, frustration over the nomination process went nova when Democrats on the judiciary committee rejected the nomination of Judge Charles Pickering for a seat on the appeals court. During the particularly bitter nomination hearings, opponents suggested that Pickering is a racist (he is not).
Sick and tired of watching Senate Democrats put politics above the law, former White House legal counsel, C. Boyden Gray, has formed a task force designed to haul along the federal nomination process. Called the Committee for Justice, the group's goal is to prevent Senate Democrats from further obstructing President Bush's judicial nominations. "The judicial process has always been sacred. It should never be compromised for political self-interests," said Gray.
Of course, there is nothing new about politicians having difficulty overcoming their own political agendas. But rarely has the law itself been subjected to this level of partisan infighting. "It's the worst I have ever seen in my entire senatorial career," says Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, referring to the frequency with which Democrats torpedo judicial nominations. "I voted for (liberal) Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg because she was qualified, capable. It would have been unfair to derail her nomination," Lott said.
The inability of Democrats to transcend petty factionalism and seriously consider President Bush's judicial nominees raises serious implications. When the law becomes an instrument of politics, it rarely reflects the will of the majority.
The failure of the Senate Democrats to move beyond their own political self-interests also threatens to dilute the judicial pool, simply by virtue of the fact that many of this country's brightest legal minds are unwilling to subject themselves to this sort of scrutiny. That's bad for our judiciary, and bad for our democracy.
Ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Orin Hatch, summed up the situation succinctly: "This is pathetic. They've treated these individuals very poorly. And we can't sit idly by to watch this nonsense and character assassination continue."
At bottom, the nomination of federal judges should be marked by reasoned and methodical considerations of justice, not partisan politics. Subjecting the judicial process to this sort of factionalism threatens the very quality of liberty and democracy available to our citizens. Americans need to let their representatives know that they will no longer support those Senate Democrats intent on hijacking the judicial nomination process.
Plainly, the law ought not to become an instrument of politics.