Pat Leahy, Judiciary Committee Chairman?

Article excerpt


Now that control of the U.S. Senate is clearly in play in the congressional midterm elections next month, it is instructive to contemplate how the federal judiciary will be affected if Democrats gain at least six seats, which would give them majority status in Congress's upper chamber. For President Bush and anybody else who espouses a traditional conservative judicial philosophy comparable to the views of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Democratic majority control of the Senate would be disastrous. The very liberal Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, would return as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Leahy's first stint as Judiciary chairman was bad news for believers in a conservative judicial philosophy. In May 2001, the month President Bush announced his first batch of appellate-court nominations, including Mr. Roberts' nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords bolted the Republican Party to become an independent. That decision flipped control of the Senate to Democrats and effectively installed Mr. Leahy as Judiciary chairman. For the final 19 months of the 107th Congress, Mr. Leahy denied Mr. Roberts a hearing before his committee. Mr. Leahy's obstinance was so extraordinary that a bipartisan group of more than 150 members of the D.C. Bar, including the late Lloyd Cutler (who served as White House counsel to both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton) and Seth Waxman (who served as Mr. Clinton's solicitor general), sent a letter to the Judiciary Committee after Mr. Roberts was renominated in January 2003. …