July 18, 2008

Judges Boycott & Suggestions for Sen. Reid

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Bob Conrad’s nomination to the Fourth Circuit Yet Judiciary Chairman Leahy has not allowed Conrad even a hearing. Those judicial nominees who have had hearings and await committee votes fared no better yesterday. Leahy did not include any of them on the agenda for yesterday’s Judiciary Committee meeting. In protest, the Republican members of the committee boycotted the meeting. They cited Democrats’ use of "fancy footwork … [and] every stalling tactic in the book” to block nominees, including “claiming that they are ‘too qualified’ and by citing a mythical ‘Thurmond rule’ that they previously admitted doesn’t exist.” (Sens. Grassley & Brownback respectively).

But the most remarkable development of the day was Majority Leader Reid’s claim on the Senate floor that he “can’t ever remember going home” and hearing concern about the “judges problem.” Apparently, Sen. Reid doesn’t get around much. But we have a few suggestions about who he should talk to if he wants to more accurately assess voters’ concern with the judges issue.

Reid should start with the citizens of the Fourth Circuit, who have been suffering with the substantial delays in justice caused by a vacancy rate of up to 33%, with some seats left vacant for the entire length of the Bush Administration. The 21 GOP Congressmen in the Fourth Circuit have had to plead with the Senate to take action because “excessive vacancies may be taking a serious toll on the administration of justice.”

Next, Sen. Reid should talk to pollsters like Rasmussen, who found that GOP voters rank the appointment of Supreme Court justices as a more important presidential election issue than the war in Iraq, as well as the American Bar Association, which found that Americans, by an almost 2-to-1 margin, believe judicial activism “seems to have reached a crisis” (4 ABA Journal eReport 40, 9/30/05).

Reid should also chat with his predecessor, former Majority Leader Tom Daschle, whose narrow 2004 loss is widely blamed on his obstruction of President Bush’s judicial nominees, an issue emphasized by his opponent. Or Reid could chat about the 2002 Senate races with Karl Rove, who said:
"There's no doubt in my mind that we won races all throughout the country [on the judges issue]. We won the Senate race in South Carolina – judges; won the North Carolina race – judges; won the Georgia race – judges."
If Reid is still not convinced that voters care about judges, he should visit political analyst and professor Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia. Sabato found that the judges issue "was one of Bush's best issues in the campaigns of 2000 and 2004" (Congress Daily PM, 7/18/06). If he prefers to look ahead, Sen. Reid can consult his colleague Sen. Obama, whose campaign signaled the importance of the judges issue by instructing surrogates to remind voters of the difference between the judges he and McCain would appoint.

Finally, Sen. Reid should ask Democrats on the Judiciary Committee why they support the Federal Judgeship Act, which would add 50 federal judgeships. The purpose of the Act, in Chairman Leahy’s words, is to “meet the needs of circuits and districts overwhelmed by growing caseloads.” (emphasis added). If Americans don’t care about the delays in justice caused by a shortage of sitting judges, then why are Reid’s colleagues planning to waste taxpayers’ money on new judgeships?

Sen. Reid’s remarkable claim that his constituents don’t care about the “judges problem” came as part of his excuse for denying Republicans the floor time they wanted to discuss the pending vote on two New York district court nominees. Instead, Reid rushed their confirmation through before a debate could take place. Which leaves us wondering what Reid is so afraid of hearing. Perhaps it’s the latest figures from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which show that Democratic obstruction has caused unprecedented delays in the judicial confirmation process. Relative to President Clinton, Bush’s circuit court nominee have waited 46% longer if confirmed, and more than twice as long if not confirmed.