WASHINGTON, D.C. -- There is a whiff of schizophrenia about the
Democratic Party. When it comes to going to war with a dangerous man
possessed of weaponry more lethal than anything the late Adolf Hitler ever
had, the Democrats betray an irenic streak: all patience, conciliation and
wimpery. But when it comes to going to war with fellow Americans, it is WAR:
show no quarter, no holds barred, take no prisoners. If the Democrats were
as bellicose toward Saddam Hussein as they are toward the Republicans, Iraq
would be a smoking crater.
I, who believe politics is a blood sport, would admire the
Democrats for this pugnacity were it contained merely to political
campaigns. When the Democrats extend their bloody tactics to the governance
of the country, my enthusiasm cools. When I see them practicing
scorched-earth tactics in the area of judicial appointments, I become a
dove. Come on, Oh party of Jefferson, fill those empty federal court seats.
Think of your most generous supporters, the trial lawyers. How can they make
their billions if the courts have no judges?
Sen. Pat Leahy, the glabrous chairman of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, has been ferocious in holding up White House nominations to the
court. He has committed the hitherto unprecedented obstruction of bottling
up appellate nominees in his committee who have received the highest
recommendation of the American Bar Association.
The American Bar Association is the legal arbiter that the
Democrats claim to consider essential to the vetting of judicial appointees
and that the Republicans censure as anti-Republican.
Now, Leahy has moved on to yet another unprecedented act of
obstruction. He has broken repeated promises to give appeals-court nominee
Dennis Shedd a committee vote. As the ever-reliable Wall Street Journal puts
it editorially, "Refusing to vote on a nominee who has had his confirmation
hearing and has been schedule for markup in committee is entirely
Apparently, Leahy felt forced to this latest act of obstruction
because Shedd had attracted sufficient votes from Democrats to win
confirmation on the Senate floor. This is not the first time Leahy has
denied a White House nominee a floor vote. He did it to Priscilla Owen and
Charles Pickering Sr. In every case he and like-minded Democrats not only
raised unwarranted questions about the nominees' credentials, but they also
slandered the nominees with charges as extreme as racism. In Pickering's
case, the judge had the support of most of the leading blacks in his
community, but Democrats still leveled on him the unconscionable epithet of
What Leahy and his colleagues are doing is thoroughly
politicizing the courts. If they succeed, the country is going to be
populated with judges who have spent their whole lives with their wetted
fingers in the air, ascertaining which way the political winds were blowing.
This, rather than doing what judges are supposed to do, applying the law.
Judges are not supposed to make law. Their personal opinions are
not to enter into the judicial process. It ought not to matter what Shedd
thinks about political issues. His job is simply to apply laws written by
the authors of the Constitution or by legislators.
The original standard that senators were to use to scrutinize
judicial appointees is a standard both liberal Democrats and conservative
Republicans once agreed on, to wit: Is the nominee a person of proven
integrity and knowledge of the law? Judges are to apply law, not to make
Yet for 30 years, as liberal Democrats have been able to make
less and less law, owing to their diminishing popularity in the electorate,
they have looked to the courts to make liberal law and to preserve liberal
law against the changing will of the people. Thus, they are desperate to
eliminate conservatives. Conservatives will, if they are true to their
principles, refrain from making law from the bench; but liberals can take no
chances. They want an activist court -- an activist liberal court.
Thus they grill Republican nominees on all manner of issues
irrelevant to their duties on the court. The questions they ask are often as
humiliating as they are irrelevant.
This is American politics at its most ignominious. The spectacle
Leahy has presented us with, a string of distinguished men and women
appearing before his committee, heads bowed, answers obsequious, is
reminiscent of nothing so much as a show trial with Leahy as chief
prosecutor. His behavior is increasingly that of an authoritarian.