Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Cease-Fire

The Senate avoided a showdown over President Bush's stalled judicial nominees yesterday when 14 Senators, 7 from each party, came to an agreement that will allow three of the five stalled nominees to receive a vote on the Senate floor and forbids Senate Democrats from filibustering any additional judicial nominees except under "under extraordinary circumstances". The deal has left many people upset on both sides of the aisle. Conservatives are upset that seven of their own failed to uphold the principal that judicial nominees deserve an up or down vote. Liberals are upset that "conservative extremists" Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor, barring a miracle, will be appointed.

Personally, I'm glad this Senate pissing match is over for the time being. I have grown weary of the hypocrisy of both parties. This was a power struggle and nothing more. When Republicans like Majority Leader Bill Frist say, "Republicans believe in the regular order of fair up and down votes and letting the Senate decide yes or no on judicial confirmations free from procedural gimmicks like the filibuster," what he really means to say is that judicial nominees deserve an up or down vote when a Republican President nominates that person. You see when a Democratic President nominates one of those "left-wing ideologues" then the nominee does not deserve an up or down vote. That's why Senator Frist and other Republicans had to filibuster Clinton nominee Richard Paez in 2000. It's also why Senator Orrin Hatch, who was chairman of the Judiciary Committee during part of the Clinton administration, had to change the committee rules and allow any Senator to block a nominee from his or her home state with a "blue slip". But Republicans are not alone in this double speak. When Democratic Senator Tom Harkin says that the filibuster has "for more than two centuries... been essential to America's system of checks and balances," what he really means to say is that it is a tradition when a Republican President nominates a judge. When a Democratic President nominates a judge, then the filibuster is "a relic of the ancient past," or "a mockery of the Constitution," or "a breach of the Senate's constitutional mandate". It is why Harkin and 17 other Democratic Senators in 2000 sponsored a bill that would get rid of the filibuster.

Now that this compromise with the judicial nominees has been reached, does this mean that the battle over judicial nominees is over? Not by a long shot. This power struggle will likely pick up from where it ended as soon as the Supreme Court has an opening which should be this summer. The only way I see a Senate showdown over a Supreme Court nominee being avoided is if President Bush nominates someone in the mold of Sandra Day O'Connor or Anthony Kennedy. It also might not take a Supreme Court nominee battle to rekindle this dispute over judicial nominees. A controversial appellate court nominee could easily lead to reswaping of charges of President Bush nominating "conservative extremists" and Democrats being "obstructionists". The partisanship over judicial nominees is just getting started.