Judiciary Committee head Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has made his strategy on judiciary nominations clear: As long as the president sends “ideologically slanted” judges (read: pro-lifers) he will delay giving them confirmation hearings.
The very idea should outrage Americans of every stripe. It's the role of the executive branch to appoint judges — not the executive and legislative branches collaboratively. If the Senate has a particular problem with a particular judge, it should give him a hearing, and point out in a public forum what, exactly, the problem is.
And yet most commentators have been silent about the senator's stated objective.
We remember that it wasn't too long ago that Sen. Orrin Hatch waited before confirming Clinton appointments. American newspapers' editorial comment at that time was not only cogent, but tinged with outrage. How dare he stall like that?
It's a good idea to look back at what was said in 1998. Perhaps we can remind our nation's media of the principles they once held — principles that need to be vigorously applied to a new situation.
The Detroit Free Press on Jan. 3, 1998, wrote: “[T]he courts are too important an institution to be a pawn in a game between senators and the president. If Sen. Hatch truly respected the courts and our democratic system, he would cease his corrosive political games.”
The Los Angeles Times on Jan. 5, 1998, wrote about “the Senate's petty, partisan game on judicial appointments,” adding, “To Republicans, still smarting from a Democratic-led Senate's rejection of four nominees (including Robert H. Bork) forwarded by Ronald Reagan or George Bush, turnabout is fair play and tarring Clinton's nominees helps raise support for conservative causes. Sen. Hatch surely knows these are not worthy justifications. In the name of justice, he should move ahead.”
The Portland (Maine) Press Herald on Jan. 3 wrote: “GOP leaders in the Senate have delayed action on scores of nominees because, they say, they want to ferret out nominees they perceive as ‘activist’ or, in plain terms, liberal. … The way the senators have gone about it is troubling, however. Regardless of their politics … nominees to the federal bench deserve fair consideration and a vote on their qualifications. Leaving them hanging serves neither the cause of justice nor the political process.”
The St. Paul Pioneer Press on Jan. 4 wrote that “Sen. Orrin Hatch … lays the blame on the Clinton Administration for offering ‘activist’ candidates for the judiciary. ‘Activist’ by whose standards? Regardless, the nominees deserve a vote.”
It is appropriate for the Senate to vigorously assert the power it has to check the president's nominations. The American system is supposed to work that way: one branch grabs for more power, the other branch slaps it back.
What's unacceptable is for one branch of government to usurp — or simply shut down — the operation of another branch altogether (as the Supreme Court did, in the case of Roe v. Wade).
There was a time, not too long ago, when our media were outraged at the politicization of the judiciary. Where is the outrage now?