August 02, 2008

Dems’ Biggest Embarrassment

With the Senate now gone for its August vacation and only a month-long session remaining before the election, it’s time to start assessing the Democratic majority’s performance on judicial nominations in this 110th Congress. The highest marks to go to Sen. Diane Feinstein, who incurred the wrath of liberal civil rights groups when her vote in the Judiciary Committee allowed 5th Circuit nominee Leslie Southwick to reach the Senate floor and be confirmed. It’s hard to pick a single low point, but the following events are certainly in the running:
** A complete shutdown of the judicial confirmation process unmatched since 1848
** Sen. Leahy’s invention of a rule requiring obstruction of nominees, all the while blaming it on a senator – Strom Thurmond – who is no longer alive to defend himself
** The attempted personal destruction of Iraq War veteran Leslie Southwick based on judicial opinions he didn’t write
** Broken promises made by Sens. Reid and Leahy to their GOP counterparts
In other words, there’s plenty for Sens. Reid and Leahy and other Democrats to be embarrassed about. But we suspect that when people look back on the issue of judicial nominations in the 110th Congress, the biggest embarrassment for Democrats – particularly Judiciary Chairman Leahy – will be the treatment of D.C. Circuit nominee Peter Keisler. Keisler has been praised for transcending politics while serving as an Assistant Attorney General and his confirmation is supported by the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and leading legal scholars and practitioners. Even Senate Democrats and their staff privately express admiration for Keisler. Yet, by keeping him waiting two years and counting for a Judiciary Committee vote following a flawless August ’06 committee hearing, Senate Democrats have proved incapable of transcending politics and the demands of the Left.

Sen. Arlen Specter, Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, sums it up well in a Washington Times op-ed on Thursday, which focuses on Keisler’s role in combating the politicization of the Justice Department that Senate Democrats have spent the last two years denouncing:
“This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to examine reports by the Justice Department’s Inspector General (IG) on ‘politicization’ at the department. … [Peter Keisler] was repeatedly cited in the IG's June report as having spoken and acted in opposition to those who allowed political considerations to play a role in [DOJ] hiring decisions. … Ironically, Mr. Keisler … has been unable to get a Senate vote on his confirmation because the Judiciary Committee has elevated political considerations over the nominee’s qualifications.”
Specter goes on to note the IG’s observation that Keisler even made "a personal appeal … on behalf of [a DOJ] candidate who worked for Planned Parenthood,” and concludes that
“Those decrying ‘politicization’ in the Justice Department should, with equal fervor, support Senate consideration of highly qualified judicial nominees who have demonstrated a commitment, even when no one was looking, to political impartiality and the rule of law. … In a politically charged atmosphere, Mr. Keisler did the right thing. I hope the Senate Judiciary Committee will do the same.”
We know it’s tempting for Democrats to block a nominee like Keisler whose stellar credentials make him Supreme Court material. And we are certainly aware that groups on the Left, like People for the American Way, have threatened that there’ll be hell to pay if Keisler is confirmed. But Peter Keisler showed a lot of courage when he stood up against politicization of the Justice Department. So Democrats, how about showing a little courage yourselves? Besides, what will you say in the next Congress when people ask why this exceptional nominee, with support from across the ideological spectrum, was obstructed?

But if shame isn’t enough to motivate you, consider practical politics. As you look forward to the possibility of confirming Barack Obama’s judicial nominees next year, while realizing that a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate is highly unlikely, wouldn’t it make sense to end the 110th Congress with a touch of class and courage you can later point to?