February 04, 2008

Are Judicial Nominations the Next Big Issue in the Race for POTUS?

It looks so, at least on the GOP side. It started on January 22nd with a press release from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell which included this demand for more action on the president’s judicial nominees: “[W]e can’t confirm judges if they don’t get hearings. And since last summer, Democrats have allowed only one hearing on a circuit court nominee. Compare that with Senate Republicans in 1999, who held more hearings on President Clinton’s nominees in the fall of that year alone than Democrats allowed this president all last year. This pattern is neither fair nor acceptable.”

As Curt has noted below, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed last Friday by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter expressing his concern about the state of judicial nominations. Specter mentioned nominees Peter Keisler and Robert Conrad by name and noted with disappointment that “[s]ome Senate Democrats oppose particular nominees because they feel some of President Clinton's nominees were treated unfairly. Perhaps they were. But we can make no progress in the Senate or in the nation if we keep talking about perceived wrongs and behaving like the feuding Hatfields and the McCoys. At some point, we simply have to turn the page.”

After John McCain resurrected his campaign with a win in New Hampshire and began to raise more money and win more delegates, some conservatives began to express doubts about what kind of judges he would appoint to the federal bench. Other conservatives, such as John Hawkins, no big fan of McCain, see the courts as the reason to come out and vote FOR McCain in November. In a column posted on last Friday’s edition of RealClearPolitics.com, Hawkins reminded conservatives that the future of the Supreme Court is in the balance in 2008. “The court is currently split with 4 conservatives, 4 liberals and a moderate,” Hawkins asserted. “That means a number of important cases, including Roe v. Wade, will probably be decided once and for all by the Supreme Court appointments of the next President of the United States. May God forgive us if we condemn a million plus children a year to death by abortion because we're angry at John McCain. ”

McCain and/or his team apparently are aware of the controversy. A day before last Tuesday’s Florida primary McCain held a conference call hoping to assuage conservatives’ fears. According to NRO’s Mark Hemingway McCain “was unequivocal that 1) he was and is committed to supporting Justices Roberts and Alito and 2) McCain-Feingold would not be a litmus test for the justices he appoints.” Then, after his victory in Florida he mentioned the issue in his victory speech, declaring that judges should “leave to elected officials” the responsibility of making the laws.

So far the MSM has been a bit slow to pick up on this increasingly important campaign issue, but the GOP base, the candidates and several Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate have not. Look for judicial nominations to be a topic more heavily discussed, especially in GOP and conservative circles, in the near future.

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