November 07, 2008

GOP Senators on Obama’s Judges

The election is barely over and already GOP senators are discussing their strategy for handling Barack Obama’s judicial nominees. From yesterday’s Roll Call:
“[Republican Steering Committee Chairman Jim] DeMint, noting that Democrats successfully used the chamber to block several of President Bush’s nominees to circuit courts, warned that Obama and Senate Democrats will look to pack the lower courts with liberal judges. ... ‘They’re going to come back and try to fill those seats. ... If Republicans don’t make up their mind to stop this, we’re going to lose ground we can’t make up for generations. I think its going to be a key issue,’ DeMint said.”
We agree. Barack Obama has talked unabashedly about his activist judicial philosophy, specifically his belief that the rule of law must give way to “empathy” for the “poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled.” If Obama plans to pack the federal courts with judges who don’t feel bound by the rule of law, GOP senators must unite in principled opposition, especially where the vacancy is the result of Democratic obstruction under President Bush. As DeMint suggests in the article, judges are one of the key issues on which the Senate’s GOP leadership must boldly step up to the plate.

And this from the Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, Arlen Specter:
“‘I wouldn’t want to anticipate any special difficulties in the future,’ Specter said, arguing that Republicans should allow the [judicial nomination] process to play itself out before the GOP decides to block a particular nominee. ‘Anybody who makes a decision up front to block them is being precipitous. I think we ought to give the new president a chance and see what he does,’ Specter said.”
Roll Call attempts to portray the difference in DeMint’s and Specter’s tone as “tension” within the Republican Conference. Granted, that makes for a more interesting story, but we agree with Sen. Specter as heartily as we do with Sen. DeMint. It would be unprincipled for Republicans to oppose the new President’s nominees up front.

Granted, Senate Democrats did just that in 2001, when the Democrat-controlled Judiciary Committee held hearings – entitled “Should Ideology Matter?” – that even the liberal described as intended to “make sure that [the coming rough road for judicial nominees] was clear to the administration.” Nonetheless, Republicans should give Obama a chance to disprove their worst fears. As is true on many issues, we don’t yet know if Obama’s selection of judges will reflect his liberal heart or his non-partisan promises. Moreover, to select nominees for obstruction first and ask questions later would be to commit to the distortion of their records and the politics of personal destruction. Those tactics worked pretty well for Democrats these last eight years, but GOP opposition to nominees should be more principled.