Fili-Bluster

The fight over Bush’s judicial nominees gets serious — and ridiculous.


What’s going on in the Senate right now would be comical if there weren’t so much at stake.

Senate Democrats are threatening a filibuster to block three of Bush’s federal bench candidates on the grounds that the nominees are way to the right of mainstream opinion. (A fourth nominee, Miguel Estrada, recently bowed out in the face of Democratic opposition). But, lacking the votes to throw out the nominations, they’ve had to fall back on the strategy of talking the issue to death. Senate Republicans hit back with a highly unusual through-the-night 30-hour talk-a-thon that they’re dubbing the “Justice for Judges Marathon.”

The GOP wants the public to see the Democrats as cynical obstructionists undermining the democratic process. Democrats want voters to register that Bush’s nominees are fully paid-up members of the lunatic right.

Which indeed they are. Texas judge Priscilla Owen, Mississippi judge Charles Pickering, and Alabama Attorney General William Pryor have compiled records only a conservative ideologue could love. As a column in Salon puts it, to liberals, the judicial nominees are “to the right of Ghengis Khan.” Pryor, for example, is known for being anti-women’s rights, anti-gay, and anti-affirmative action.

“The nomination of William Pryor to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit should teach liberals once and for all never to underestimate George W. Bush’s chutzpah. Just when it seemed the president couldn’t possibly find any potential judges more right-wing than those he’s already appointed, he outdid himself.”

The other two nominees, Owen and Pickering, are also conservative hard-liners; they were rejected by the judiciary committee when Democrats held a majority in the Senate last year. Bush re-nominated them in January when the GOP regained the majority.

Unfortunately for Dems, it takes a majority to block appointments—and they don’t have the votes. Hence, the threatened filibuster.

Republicans, claiming unfair tactics, decided to launch an all out counterattack, namely the first all-night Senate session in a decade. Their hope is that it will highlight the folly of Democrat strategy and help push the nominees through. Bush, standing behind the nominees, demanded an up-or-down vote.

Democrats say there have been plenty of instances in the past when Republicans have blocked Democratic nominees—for instance, they compare President Clinton’s record (62 of his nominees were rejected out of 248 confirmed) to that under Bush: 168 of Bush’s nominees have been approved, only four opposed.

Republicans say that situation was different, because Clinton’s nominees were voted down, not left to fade out in a filibuster. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) writes in the National Review that filibustering is unfair to the nominees, and that liberals are trying to work outside of the constitution to get their way:

“After all, it is wrong for a partisan minority of senators to treat good people like statistics; wrong to mistreat distinguished jurists with unprecedented filibusters and unconscionable character attacks; wrong to hijack the Constitution and seize control of the judicial-confirmation process from the president and a bipartisan majority of the Senate; wrong to deny up-or-down votes to judicial nominees simply because a partisan minority of senators cannot persuade the bipartisan majority to vote against a nominee; and wrong not to play fair, follow tradition, and allow a vote. Once is bad enough, and four unconstitutional filibusters is four too many.”

Democrats counter that their senators should be wearing buttons that said 98 percent, referring to the ratio of judicial nominees they’ve accepted, and that Republicans are diverting attention from other issues, including several overdue appropriations bills.

Here, for example, is Terry O’Neill, the vice president of the National Organization for Women:

“Rome is burning — the economy is tanking, the so-called ‘recovery’ has no jobs in it, Iraq is a mess, Osama bin Laden hasn’t been caught, and what’s their response? To stage this 30-hour marathon so that they can get some misogynist extremists on the federal bench.”

How is this playing with voters? According to Salon, Republicans are taking a big risk:

“The risk, of course, is that the Republicans marginalize themselves in the eyes of mainstream voters while appealing to the base. While the 1995 government shutdown centered around a high-octane philosophical debate between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, this Republican move may seem petty if Democrats can convince voters that it’s all about just a handful of nominees. Going into the marathon, that certainly seemed to be the Democrats’ plan….”