Skip to comments.Partisanship is Prevalent with Leahy's Judicial Confirmations
Posted on 11/16/2001 1:15:49 PM PST by Stand Watch Listen
In a letter to the editor published in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy made an interesting, almost laughable claim. When it comes to judicial nominations, the Senator from Vermont wrote, "Democrats have worked day after day to support the administration and to subsume partisanship." Mr. Leahy's management of the confirmation process tells a different story, however, one where concerns about what he has called a judicial vacancy crisis have been consumed by partisan efforts to block qualified judicial nominees.
His willingness to stall nominations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is a good example. That court, which covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, has seven of its sixteen seats vacant, and another judgeship will be empty by the end of this year. Although there are six nominees waiting to fill this half-empty court, Mr. Leahy has given every indication that he's happy to leave things just as they are.
When President Bush announced his first judicial nominations on May 9, he included two nominees to the Sixth Circuit. Jeffrey Sutton of Ohio is an experienced and well-respected litigator who has argued 9 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Deborah Cook - another outstanding pick - is a Justice on the Ohio Supreme Court who has also served on the Ohio Court of Appeals. For those who care about such things, Mr. Sutton received a "qualified/well qualified" rating from the American Bar Association, and Justice Cook was given a unanimous "qualified" rating.
The thing is, those ratings came out quite some time ago . . . on June 11. Mr. Leahy, who said he would wait for the ABA to tell him what it thought of nominees, did nothing. Neither Justice Cook nor Mr. Sutton has even received a hearing.
Why the blockade?
Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow (both Democrats) have demanded that President Bush re-nominate and the Senate confirm two of former President Clinton's unconfirmed nominees to the Sixth Circuit. The two, Helene White and Kathleen McCree Lewis, were among several people re-nominated by Clinton days before his term ended and withdrawn by the President in March.
In a letter sent at the beginning of the August recess, the two Senators asked Mr. Leahy to refuse to act on all of President Bush's nominations to the Sixth Circuit until White and McCree Lewis have their situation "resolved." "Fairness demands that these two women be granted expeditious consideration by the White House and Senate," they insisted.
Although Mr. Leahy didn't publicly agree, his complete lack of action has made his position clear.
White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales responded by writing to Mr. Leahy concerning the two Senators' demands, informing him that holding Sixth Circuit nominations "would distort the Senate's exercise of its advice and consent function by institutionalizing a practice whereby well-qualified nominees may be held hostage to the non-germane demands of individual Senators from other states."
Mr. Gonzales also referred to the President's re-nomination of Circuit Judge Gregory of the Fourth Circuit (who was originally a Clinton nominee/recess appointment), writing: "For any Senator to insist that this extraordinary and historic act be repeated is simply not at all fair."
Even with two Senators confused about the difference between "advise and consent" and "nominate," Mr. Bush tried to work things out. In the meantime, he didn't try to fill the four Michigan vacancies on the Sixth Circuit; he nominated Julia Smith Gibbons to fill a Tennessee vacancy instead. As Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee (she's been on the court since 1983), she is another eminently qualified nominee. And like Mr. Sutton and Justice Cook, she'll undoubtedly be left waiting until the Senators from Michigan get their way.
After Judge Gibbons' October 9 nomination, the constitutional confusion of Senators Levin and Stabenow only deepened. Two weeks ago, they wrote to the President, asking him to surrender his appointment power to a "bipartisan commission" that would fill the Michigan vacancies on the court. Not unexpectedly, the President rejected this outlandish proposal and went ahead with three nominations for those Michigan vacancies.
Again, Mr. Bush put forward a group of well-qualified nominees. David McKeague is a U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Michigan, Susan Bieke Neilson is a judge on the state's 3rd Judicial Circuit, and Henry Saad is a judge on the Michigan Court of Appeals. The two Senators promptly announced their opposition, however.
Until they get their choices nominated and confirmed, "we cannot in good conscience consider new nominees," they said.
Senator Leahy, meanwhile, continues to allow the 6 nominations to this almost half-empty court to sit in limbo. It's certainly an odd move for someone who once declared that "those who delay or prevent the filling of [judicial] vacancies must understand that they are delaying or preventing the administration of justice."
It's also an odd move for someone who - only last year - publicly agreed with then-Governor Bush that the Senate should act on judicial nominations within 60 days. After all, he's left Mr. Sutton and Justice Cook waiting 190 days. And counting.
Only 18 of President Bush's 64 judicial nominees have been confirmed this year - just 28 percent. In their first years, former Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton had 91, 62, and 57 percent of their nominees confirmed. And even though George W. Bush began making nominations three months earlier than those predecessors, giving Mr. Leahy plenty of time to confirm judges, his committee has kept things moving at a crawl.
Regardless of how many letters to the editor he pens or how audacious his protestations of innocence are, one thing is clear: Mr. Leahy's partisanship is a long way from being subsumed. On the contrary, he's made it plain to everyone that it's the one thing that still reigns supreme.
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Sometimes known as "loyal opposition," i.e., obstructing whatever you can manage to obstruct but protesting loyalty to the good of the country all the while. And if you ever got control of things, you sure would run them differently.
Leahy is one of the better examples of people in Washington that get there and quickly forget that we have a Representative Republic. If they ever really understood what that means in the first place. Like most Democrats, he represents himself and his party. Pitiful.
I don't really know the Republicans' chnaces for 2002.
BUT, if I were President Bush, I would wait and make recess appointments (during the Holidays) just as the Clinton/Gore/Clinton adminstration did. Then let the Democrats provide debate and attempt to rescind these recess appointments. They would have to go on record for their obstructions, their delays, their rationale. The Democrats could not bleat that President Bush has upsurped the confirmation process as they were quite content during the Clinton/Gore/Clinton' shenanigans.