Don't Mind What He Says; Sen. Leahy Fails His Own Fairness test.(OPED)

Article excerpt


On May 9, 2001, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy watched in the White House East Room as President Bush announced his first 11 nominees to the federal judiciary. Seven were sitting judges - either on the federal bench or on state supreme courts - four had clerked for members of the U.S. Supreme Court, four were among the country's leading Supreme Court practitioners and four had argued cases before the Supreme Court, totaling almost 70 in all. Even more remarkable was the fact that one was an unconfirmed Clinton circuit court nominee whose re-nomination by a president of another party was virtually unprecedented.

A reasonable observer would expect that a first group of nominees with those credentials would have been confirmed long ago. Only three of them have been. The former Clinton nominee sailed through the Senate a couple of months after his nomination. Another Clinton appointee elevated by Mr. Bush received a Senate vote in the fall. And one Fifth Circuit nominee was confirmed in November, so that when Democrats went after Charles Pickering they could claim they had at least confirmed someone to that court.

The others ran into an insurmountable obstacle - Mr. Leahy himself - and for nearly a year, their nominations have remained in limbo. No hearings, no votes. Nothing.

In public statements over the past few years, Mr. Leahy has set forth a standard of fairness for dealing with nominations, and throughout his tenure as Judiciary's chairman, he has insisted that his handling of Mr. Bush's nominations has been fair and equitable. But when the Leahy Standard is compared to his record on these eight nominees, his actions fall short of the mark that he himself set.

Several times during 2000, Mr. Leahy supported then-Gov. Bush's call for the Senate to act quickly on nominations. In October, he said: "I have said on the floor, although we are of different parties, I have agreed with Gov. George Bush, who has said that in the Senate a nominee ought to get a vote, up or down, within 60 days." Though he said that fair treatment requires timely action, these nominees have waited 362 days for a hearing and a vote. And while he may have thought that someone else would be appointing judges by this time, his support for Mr. Bush's call was unequivocal.

When Mr. Bush announced these nominations, Mr. Leahy praised his choices, saying: "Had I not been encouraged, I would not have been here today. I will continue to work with the president. …