May 23, 2008

Reid Bows to Far Left as Rs Rank Judges Issue #1

This week brought two more reminders of the importance of the judges issue to GOP voters:
“When it comes to how they will vote in November, Republican voters say that the type of Supreme Court Justices a candidate would appoint is more important than the War in Iraq.” – Rasmussen Reports
“Item No.1 on the list of complaints from … conservative leaders is Mr. Bush’s failure to compel the Senate to vote on the federal judges he has nominated.” – Gerald Seib, Wall Street Journal
The Rasmussen survey also found that “by a 69% to 20% margin, voters [of all stripes] believe that judges should interpret the law as it is written,” and that only 11% of voters trust judges over voters or elected officials “to decide important decisions facing the country.” These findings help to explain why the judges issue has worked to Republicans’ advantage over the last decade. California Supreme Court, are you listening?

In truth, the responsibility for “compelling” Senate Democrats to allow up-or-down votes on the President’s judicial nominees lies primarily with GOP senators. And they undoubtedly have the Rasmussen survey results in the back of their minds as they consider their reaction to Majority Leader Reid’s broken promise to confirm three appeals court nominees before the Memorial Day recess, as well as Reid’s sure-to-be-broken earlier promises to meet the historical average (17) for appeals court confirmations in a president’s final two years. With just a couple of months left in the confirmation window, Reid is less than halfway to meeting that average.

The time for getting contested judicial nominees confirmed is running out, and GOP senators appear determined to make Reid pay a price for reneging on his word when the Senate reconvenes:
“I fear that the Majority Leader’s unwillingness to confirm judges will have negative consequences not only for our federal judiciary, but the Senate’s broader agenda.” – Sen. John Cornyn (5/22/08)
“A good GOP Senate source reports today that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell addressed the entire Republican Conference … about the judge-fight issue. McConnell is said to have been very insistent that he would not let Majority Leader Reid's broken promise go unpunished … He would not tell the Conference exactly what action he was planning, but he did say it would be very firm, and that all concerned would know it when we see it.” – Quin Hillyer (5/21/08)
Sen. McConnell also explained yesterday that Reid has failed to live up to the standard of commitment set by then-Majority Leader Trent Lott (R – Miss.), who made good on his promise to provide up-or-down confirmation votes for President Clinton’s controversial, ultra-liberal 9th Circuit nominees Richard Paez and Marsha Berzon:
“Lott committed to proceed to the Paez and Berzon nominations by March 15 [2000], which was, of course, a Presidential election year, just as this year is. … Given that many in our Conference and over 300 groups opposed these nominations, it would have been easier in many respects for Majority Leader Lott [to] have taken a hands-off approach, shrugged his shoulders, and put the onus on [Judiciary] Chairman Hatch to make good on the Majority Leader’s own commitment. … But Senator Lott understood that commitments in this body are not to be taken lightly, especially when they are made by the Majority Leader. So … Lott filed cloture on [the nominations]. … Judges Paez and Berzon were confirmed … Unfortunately, a similar commitment made to my Conference was not honored today.”
While Sen. Lott overcame numerous obstacles to get Paez and Berzon confirmed, Sen. Reid has looked for excuses to renege on his pledge. As evidence of having “tried” to meet his commitment, Reid points to Democrats’ failed attempt to rush liberal 6th Circuit nominee Helene White – nominated last month – through the Judiciary Committee and past nominees who have been waiting for up to two years and “could easily have been picked and confirmed” (quoting McConnell). The attempt failed because White’s ABA rating could not be completed in record time.

GOP senators are understandably angry that Sen. Reid broke the golden rule of senatorial honor by reneging on his commitment. But perhaps Reid should be pitied instead for being too weak to stand up to People for the American Way (PFAW), the Alliance for Justice, and the other groups on the Left who have their knives out for the three nominees who logically should have been confirmed before Memorial Day: Bob Conrad, Steve Matthews, and Peter Keisler. As Democratic Judiciary Committee memos disclosed in November 2003 showed, these groups often call the shots when it comes to which judicial nominees Democratic senators will block.

Groups on the Left have been demanding payback from Reid since he allowed the confirmation of 5th Circuit nominee Leslie Southwick last fall against their wishes, and have excoriated Senate Democrats for “caving” by confirming two – just two – appeals court nominees this year, both uncontroversial. One has to assume that Sen. Reid would have preferred to save face by keeping his Memorial Day pledge, but simply lacks the political muscle to say no to PFAW and company.

Despite the bitter battle over judges, the Memorial Day holiday is a good time to put this all in perspective by noting the battles with cancer of two of the Judiciary Committee’s lions, Senators Kennedy and Specter. Despite being in the middle of another round of chemotherapy, Sen. Specter continues to be an eloquent voice for the importance of getting judges confirmed. And, having locked horns with Sen. Kennedy over the judges issue on various occasions, we know what a tough fighter he is. Here’s hoping he can fight his cancer with the same resolve.

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