Democrats Refuse to Act Judiciously: Democrats in Control of the Senate Have Stonewalled President George W. Bush's Nominees for the Federal Bench, Creating a Crisis in U.S. Law Enforcement. (Nation: Judicial Nominations)
Nichols, Hans S., Insight on the News
That was then. This is now. Before the Supreme Court waded into the Florida electoral swamp and decided Bush v. Gore, Senate Democrats were fond of quoting Chief Justice William Rehnquist's 1997 comment that judicial "vacancies cannot remain at such high levels indefinitely without eroding the quality of justice [that] traditionally has been associated with the federal judiciary." At the time, there were 82 vacancies on the bench of federal appeals and district courts.
With the number of vacancies at 107 today, Republicans claim that the Democrats have changed their tune now that a Republican is doing the nominating and Democrats control the Senate.
One of the most dogged critics of the Republican handling of President Bill Clinton's judicial nominees was Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), now chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Back when he was ranking member on the committee, he took to the floor and declared: "Any week in which the Senate does not confirm three judges is a week in which the Senate is failing to address the vacancy crisis. Any fortnight in which we have gone without a judicial-confirmation hearing marks two weeks in which the Senate is falling further behind."
As chairman, however, Leahy has lost his desire to confirm three judges a week, say congressional aides. While the cranky Vermonter boasts that his committee has held eight hearings, many of those involved only one nominee, say Capitol Hill observers. On his watch, more than 37 judicial nominees have yet to receive so much as the courtesy of a hearing.
John Nowacki of the Free Congress Foundation recalls Leahy's rush to concur with candidate George W. Bush back in October 2000. "Although we are [from] 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," Leahy said. Of the first batch of Bush nominees -- delivered by the president to the Senate on May 9 -- only two of the 11 have been given a hearing, Nowacki says. And of the entire 60 nominations Bush has sent, only 12 have been confirmed.
In response to concern about this, Leahy spokeswoman Mimi Delvin says: "While the Republicans clearly expected retaliation for the shoddy way in which they treated Democratic nominees, it's not happening. The Democrats are moving faster on nominees than the Republicans did, but for some who are bent on waging a partisan war over judges, that is not good enough."
An irate GOP aide responds: "Here are the same people who perfected the crucifixion hearing, and the only thing we did was delay half-a-dozen of their nominees. Guilty. We did that, but we never attacked their character, and we always kept the vacancy number under 70 at the end of each Congress"
Democrats shrug that political gamesmanship on judicial nominations is nothing new, but nonpartisan observers stress that this type of obstruction rarely occurs at the outset of a new administration. "One can see this pattern at the end of an administration, especially when the quality of the nominees gets thinner" Douglas Kmiec, dean of the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University, tells INSIGHT. "But for this early in an administration and with the quality of these nominees -- all with splendid legal credentials -- to be treated this rudely is truly unprecedented."
Taken alone, the raw percentages suggest that Bush's first-year nominees have indeed received shoddy treatment. According to data culled from Senate records and the Congressional Research Service by the Free Congress Foundation, President Ronald Reagan had a 91 percent confirmation rate for federal judges in his first year. In 1989, when Democrats controlled the Senate, the nominees of President George H.W. Bush came in at 62 percent, not that much different from Clinton's first year percentage of 58. And Clinton, like Reagan, had his own party in charge of Senate committees. …