And is threatening to use them, related to the pitiful situation regarding confirmation of Bush’s appellate-court nominees:
April 2, 2008; Page A14
It’s not every day that a Member of the world’s greatest deliberative body stops by to chat about his plans “to close the Senate down.” Especially if his name is Arlen Specter. But the Pennsylvania Republican tells us he’s concluded that this is the only way to prod Democrats to vote on, or even hold confirmation hearings on, President Bush’s appeals-court nominees.
A look at the numbers explains why the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee is spitting mad. In the last two years of Bill Clinton’s Administration, when Mr. Specter was in the chairman’s seat, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed 15 appellate court nominees. (See the nearby table.)
Now, more than halfway through Mr. Bush’s final two years, Chairman Patrick Leahy isn’t returning the Constitutional courtesy. The Democratic Senate has confirmed a mere six nominees with no plans in sight to move the remaining 11 forward. Judicial nominees rarely are confirmed in the final months of a President’s second term, so the clock is running out. Democrats figure they’ll retake the White House in November, and they don’t mind leaving the courts short-handed for another year or two as they stall for liberal nominees.
Mr. Specter says he has recommended that Republicans “go full steam ahead” until Democrats agree to hold confirmation votes. He has in mind a series of procedural stalls that would make it next to impossible for the Senate to get anything done. These could include refusing to accept the usual unanimous consent motion to have the previous day’s deliberations entered into the official record without a formal reading, a process that would take hours. So would reading the text of many bills, which can run to hundreds of pages.
The Democrats’ slow judicial roll follows their misuse of the filibuster when they were in the minority during the first Bush term. It’s also an abuse of the Constitution, which gives the President the responsibility of selecting judges while the Senate has an obligation to vote up or down. “I sided with Clinton on his judges who were competent,” Mr. Specter points out. After the judicial wars of the Bush years, this notion seems almost quaint.
Mr. Leahy has taken a far more partisan approach to his responsibilities as chairman, holding just one confirmation hearing since September. That was a hastily scheduled hearing for Fifth Circuit nominee Catharina Haynes on February 21 when the Senate was in recess. No Republican on Judiciary was in Washington at the time and Mr. Specter arranged for Senator John Warner from nearby Virginia to pinch-hit for him. Nor does Mr. Leahy appear to mind that, of the 11 appeals-court nominees awaiting Senate action, seven would fill seats deemed to be judicial emergencies. One-third of the 15 seats on the Fourth Circuit, covering Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina, are vacant.
Among those waiting for a vote is Peter Keisler, Mr. Bush’s highly regarded nominee for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Mr. Bush dropped Mr. Keisler from the nomination list in 2001 after Maryland’s two Democratic Senators refused to support him for the Fourth Circuit. He was later confirmed as an Assistant Attorney General and served as Acting Attorney General after Alberto Gonzales resigned.
Mr. Keisler was nominated for the D.C. Circuit in 2006, but Democrats won’t forgive him for having clerked for Robert Bork early in his career (as well as for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy). He is widely seen as Supreme Court material, presumably the reason Mr. Leahy hopes his nomination will go the way of Miguel Estrada, a legal star blocked by a Democratic filibuster in Mr. Bush’s first term.
As for Mr. Specter’s plan, there’s no guarantee it will work, as Democrats will denounce Republican “gridlock.” But it has the advantage of getting the issue of judicial confirmations back in front of the public in an election year. It also offers Senator John McCain an opportunity to show some leadership on an issue popular both with conservatives and independents. Some activists still haven’t forgiven him for his role in the bipartisan “Gang of 14” Senators who brokered a deal in 2005 that thwarted Republican efforts to ban judicial filibusters. As for Barack Obama, this would be a chance to show his “post-partisan” campaign riffs are more than rhetoric.
As we learned in the first Bush term, Senate Democrats are willing to abuse their power to thwart a President’s judicial nominations. The only way to get them to move is to force them to pay a political price for their obstructionism.[/i]