'Be not afraid'

Posted: Apr 20, 2002 12:00 AM
It’s much easier to frighten someone if you don’t give him all the information he needs to come to a reasonable conclusion. That’s exactly what the liberal activist group People for the American Way is doing on the critical issue of judicial nominations – using scare tactics while working to keep people in the dark. Let’s start by laying out the problem. As of April 3, there were 95 openings on the federal bench. Chief Justice William Rehnquist says that number of vacancies is alarming, and he’s called on the Senate to move quickly to fill them. Why are there so many openings now? Well, according to Sen. Pat Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, one reason is that “There were an unusually high number of retirements taken by Federal judges after the November 2000 election”. Clearly, a lot of Federal judges stepped down, knowing they would be replaced by President George W. Bush. Bush is doing everything he can to make that happen. So far, he has nominated 92 judges, all of whom passed muster by the American Bar Association. That’s more nominations, more quickly then any President in history. But most of those nominees are in limbo. More than 50 haven’t had so much as a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, let alone a full Senate vote. That’s why I was on the Voice of America last week, facing off against Ralph Neas of People for the American Way. (you can hear the debate at http://www.voanews.com/real/voa/english/enco/enco0433a.ram) Neas started off by telling me he thinks the Senate is doing an excellent job, because it has managed to confirm more than 40 of Bush’s nominees. Neas said that’s a higher percentage confirmed than during President Clinton’s second term. That’s true, as far as it goes. But the problem is that statistics can be meaningless. According to the statistics, Enron was one of the 10 largest corporations in the U.S. last year. In fact, Enron probably took in less money last year than my barber did. You get a better picture by comparing similar years. During Bush’s first year, the Senate confirmed just 44 % of his nominees. During Clinton’s first year, the Senate confirmed 62 % of his nominees. Since he’s weak on the facts, Neas plan was clear: Frighten the listener. At least three times, he talked about how President Bush’s nominees would roll back decades of progress. He sums up his argument on the PFAW website: “The right-wing ideologues are prepared to take us back even further than Roe v. Wade, further than the great states’ rights – civil rights struggles of the 1960s. They’re eager to take us back to before the New Deal”. That’s certainly a grim picture. But as liberal icon Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I’d rather trust voters than try to frighten them. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if Bush’s nominees are such a bunch of right-wing wackos, that will quickly become clear in Senate hearings? And that mainstream Americans will demand that the Senate reject these nominees? That’s what frightens People for the American Way: They know that the judges Bush has nominated are well-qualified and popular. So Neas talks a lot about finding judges who are in the “mainstream”, while ignoring the fact that the “mainstream” is simply what the majority of Americans think. Certainly we’re all smart enough to watch hearings and decide if we agree with the nominees. That’s why we need Senate hearings, and Senate votes, for these judges. Neas also challenged me to join him in a more comprehensive debate about the type of person who should be on the Federal bench. That type of discussion wouldn’t hurt. But let’s remember that the U.S. Senate that has a Constitutional duty to have that debate, as part of its advise and consent role. And, because Sen. Leahy isn’t holding hearings, the Senate isn’t doing its part. So, if it will help, I’ll gladly go on tour to debate you, Ralph Neas. I’ll agree to appear on TV shows, at rock concerts, baseball games, county fairs – any time and place you choose. But only if you'll call Sen. Leahy today and convince him to schedule one hearing a week for the rest of the year, and call Sen. Daschle today and convince him to schedule one Senate vote a week for the rest of the year. That would go a long way toward filling the scores of empty judgeships. And it would give all of us a chance to decide if Bush’s nominees -- who have all received “qualified” or “well qualified” ratings from the American Bar Association -- deserve to be on the Federal bench. How about it, Ralph? I know you’ve got Sen. Leahy’s and Sen. Daschle’s ear. How about you ask them to stop sitting in judgement, and instead allow the democratic process to work the way it’s supposed to? Then we can get this show on the road.