Today’s Wall Street Journal reports reports that senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) plans “to close the Senate down.”
The article reports, “he's concluded that this is the only way to prod Democrats to vote on, or even hold confirmation hearings on, President Bush's appeals-court nominees.”
To digress for a moment, keep in mind that this is an unsigned editorial by someone on the WSJ’s staff. When I was a kid, for my entertainment and amusement, I would read the funny pages in the back of the daily paper. Now, I read the WSJ’s editorial pages for my amusement—they are about equally out of touch with reality.
The op-ed tells us Specter is “spitting mad” In the last two years of Bill Clinton's Administration, when Mr. Specter was in the chairman's seat, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed 15 appellate court nominees. (Unfortunately, the WSJ is wrong. Specter was not the chair. Orin Hatch was. But what do facts have to do with the funny pages, anyway?)
This, they compare to Leahy’s “mere six nominees, with no plans in sight to move the remaining 11 forward. Judicial nominees rarely are confirmed in the final months of a President's second term, so the clock is running out. Democrats figure they'll retake the White House in November, and they don't mind leaving the courts short-handed for another year or two as they stall for liberal nominees.”
The article reports that Specter plans to use “procedural stalls” in an attempt to keep the senate from getting anything done.
These could include refusing to accept the usual unanimous consent motion to have the previous day's deliberations entered into the official record without a formal reading, a process that would take hours. So would reading the text of many bills, which can run to hundreds of pages.
Here’s where it gets funny. The anonymous WSJ writer (how often do we hear the mainstream media criticize the anonymity of the blogosphere) presents what I guess, since it’s a WSJ editorial, is the Wall Street Journal’s august opinion,
“The Democrats' slow judicial roll follows their misuse of the filibuster when they were in the minority during the first Bush term. It's also an abuse of the Constitution, which gives the President the responsibility of selecting judges while the Senate has an obligation to vote up or down.”
Ah, how irritating reality can be. How ironic that this writer is criticizing the DEMOCRATS for using the filibuster, when the Republicans have used a record 63 filibusters (according to a staffer in the senate Majority leader's office) since they became the minority party—a RECORD NUMBER! (The dems, by comparison, have invoked cloture 11 times in that same time period.)
I checked with a staffer in Senator Leahy’s Majority office of the Senate Judiciary committee, and was told there were a number of problems with the article, besides Specter not being the former Chair of the committee.
The staffer told me “the idea that we haven’t moved on 11 nominees is not true. Catherina Haynes, nominee for 5th circuit had a nominations hearing on February 21st and the committee could vote on her nomination as early as tomorrow at a scheduled business meeting, where she is on the agenda.
The WSJ writes, “As we learned in the first Bush term, Senate Democrats are willing to abuse their power to thwart a President's judicial nominations. The only way to get them to move is to force them to pay a political price for their obstructionism.”
Are you laughing? I am. The Republicans in congress have filibustered so many times it is now pretty much assumed that the Dems must have a filibuster-proof majority to move ANYTHING forward. That makes the WSJ’s suggest that votes be “up or down,” another hilarious bit of entertaining comedy.
The WSJ has this to say about Specter’s idea,
As for Mr. Specter's plan, there's no guarantee it will work, as Democrats will denounce Republican "gridlock." But it has the advantage of getting the issue of judicial confirmations back in front of the public in an election year.
I say, Bring it on. This would be a delicious gift to the Democrats, who could point to the RNC’s blocking getting things done. Who knows, if Specter is foolish enough to try it, which I don’t think he is, then maybe John Conyers, in the house, will decide, since the Republicans are holding up congress from getting anything done, it is time to start impeachment hearings for Cheney. But I don’t think Specter is serious. If he was, he wouldn’t be talking the WSJ editiorial section. He’d take it somewhere serious, like Fox News.
Judiciary Chair Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the target of Specter’s complaints, commented on Republican criticism of the judiciary approval process, “I do not think the American people are fooled or amused by continued partisan bickering over nominations. Indeed, with a massive subprime mortgage crisis that has left so many Americans in dire straights, fearful of losing their homes, the Republican efforts to create an issue over judicial nominees is misplaced. In fact, I have been working hard to make progress and have treated this president’s nominees more fairly than Republicans treated those of President Clinton. Judicial nominations are not the most pressing problem facing the country. Indeed we have worked hard to lower vacancies to the lowest levels in decades. We have cut circuit vacancies in half.”
His complete statement regarding the issue of confirming judge nominees is posted below:
Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Judicial Nominations
April 1, 2008
As I listened yesterday to the partisan rhetoric we continue to hear from Senate Republicans on nominations, I am disappointed that the Republican leader is ignoring the Majority Leader’s statement from last May 10.
Today is April Fools Day. I do not think the American people are fooled or amused by continued partisan bickering over nominations. Indeed, with a massive subprime mortgage crisis that has left so many Americans in dire straights, fearful of losing their homes, the Republican efforts to create an issue over judicial nominees is misplaced. In fact, I have been working hard to make progress and have treated this president’s nominees more fairly than Republicans treated those of President Clinton. Judicial nominations are not the most pressing problem facing the country. Indeed we have worked hard to lower vacancies to the lowest levels in decades. We have cut circuit vacancies in half.
It should be no surprise that the administration would rather focus on having a partisan political fight than the news that, in February, the United States lost 63,000 jobs. To make up for those and other job losses in recent months thanks to this president’s policies, this country would need to create 200,000 jobs every month. This administration is apparently more worried about the jobs of a handful of controversial nominees, many without the necessary support of their home state Senators, than the loss of jobs by thousands of American workers.
Unemployment is up over 20 percent, the price of gas has more than doubled and is now at a record high average of over $3.20, trillions of dollars in budget surplus have been turned into trillions of dollars of debt with an annual budget deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars, and the trade deficit has nearly doubled to almost $1 trillion. Indeed, just to pay down the interest on the national debt and the massive costs generated by the disastrous war in Iraq – the fifth anniversary of which we tragically marked two weeks ago – costs more than $1 billion a day. That’s $365 billion each year that would be better spent on priorities like health care for all Americans, better schools, and fighting crime and treating diseases at home and abroad.
Perhaps the only thing that has gone down during the Bush presidency is judicial vacancies. After the Republican Senate chose to stall consideration of circuit nominees and maintain vacancies during the Clinton administration in anticipation of a Republican presidency, judicial vacancies rose to over 100. Circuit vacancies doubled during the Clinton years. Since I became Judiciary Chairman in 2001, we have worked to cut those vacancies in half.
In the Clinton years, Senator Hatch justified the slow progress by pointing to the judicial vacancy rate. When the vacancy rate stood at 7.2 percent, Senator Hatch declared that “there is and has been no judicial vacancy crisis” and that this was a “rather low percentage of vacancies that shows the judiciary is not suffering from an overwhelming number of vacancies.” Because of Republican inaction, the vacancy rate continued to rise, reaching nearly 10 percent at the end of President Clinton’s term. The number of circuit court vacancies rose to 32 with retirements of Republican appointed circuit judges immediately after President Bush took office.
Then, as soon as a Republican President was elected they sought to turn the tables and take full advantage of the vacancies they prevented from being filled during the Clinton presidency. They have been extraordinarily successful over the past dozen years. Currently, more than 60 percent of active judges on the Federal circuit courts were appointed by Republican presidents, and more than 35 percent have been appointed by this president. The Senate has already confirmed three-quarters of this president’s circuit court nominees, compared to only half of President Clinton’s.
I was here in 1999 when the Republican Chairman of the Judiciary Committee would not hold a hearing for a single judicial nominee until June. In contrast we have scheduled three hearings on 11 nominees so far this year. We have a circuit nominee from Texas listed on the Judiciary Committee agenda this week. I wrote to the President during the last recess commending him for nominating someone for a Virginia vacancy to the Fourth Circuit who is supported by Senator Warner and Senator Webb, a Republican and a Democrat, and indicated that I would use my best efforts to proceed to that nomination as soon as the paperwork is submitted.
I ask that a copy of that letter be included in the record at the end of my statement. In that letter, I also informed the President that an anonymous Republican hold had prevented Senate confirmation of the President’s nominees to be the Associate Attorney General, the number three position at DOJ, and the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division.
Since the resignations of the entire top leadership at the Department of Justice last year in the wake of the scandals of the Gonzales era, I have made restoring the leadership ranks at the Department a priority. Since September, the Committee has held seven hearings on executive nominations, including a two-day hearing for the Attorney General. The Attorney General and the new Deputy Attorney General have been confirmed. But for Republican delays in refusing to cooperate and make a quorum in February, and now the anonymous hold, the Senate would have confirmed two more high level DOJ nominees.
The partisan rhetoric on nominations rings especially hollow in light of the progress we have made. Last year the Senate confirmed 40 judges, including six circuit judges. The 40 confirmations were more than during any of the three preceding years with Republicans in charge. The Senate has now confirmed 140 judges in the almost three years it has been run by Democrats and only 158 judges in the more than four years it was run by Republicans.
We continue to make progress. Four district court nominations are pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar. I have mentioned the nomination to the Fifth Circuit that is pending on the Judiciary Committee’s agenda this week. I have already announced and noticed another hearing this Thursday for four more judicial nominees, two from Virginia and two from Missouri, and for the nominee to be the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy. This will be the Judiciary Committee’s fifth confirmation hearing this year.
With respect to the recent nomination of Steven Agee to a Virginia seat in the Fourth Circuit, it is regrettable that Justice Agee’s nomination only comes after months of delay when the White House insisted on sending to the Senate the nomination of Duncan Getchell. That nomination did not have the support of either of the Virginia Senators and was withdrawn after the Virginia Senators objected publicly. In fact, the delay in filling that vacancy has lasted years because this President insisted on sending forward highly controversial nominations like William Haynes, Claude Allen and Duncan Getchell.
In my letter to the President, I wrote that I expect the Judiciary Committee and the Senate to proceed promptly to consider and confirm Justice Agee’s nomination with the support of Senator Warner and Senator Webb, just as we proceeded last year to confirm the nomination of Judge Randy Smith to the Ninth Circuit, once the President had withdrawn his nomination for a California seat and resubmitted it for a vacancy from Idaho. I urged the President to use the Agee nomination as a model for working with home state Senators and Senators from both sides of the aisle. Time is running short.
Senate Democrats should not and have not acted the way Republicans did by pocket filibustering more than 60 of President Clinton’s nominees. I would rather see us work with the President on the selection of nominees that the Senate can proceed to confirm than waste precious time fighting about controversial nominees who he selects in order to score political points. I would also rather see the Senate focus on addressing the real priorities of the country rather than catering only to an extreme wing of the Republican base with controversial nominees.
# # # # #
Judges Confirmed Under President Bush
Total noms (includes
CIT and SCOTUS)
Leahy 1st Tenure (17 months)
Leahy 2nd Tenure (15 months)
Leahy total (32 months)
Hatch (2 years)
Specter (2 years)
Nominations Made vs. Nominations Confirmed