WSJ Goes After Reid on Judges

The Wall Street JournalOpinion Journal goes after Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) and Senate Democrats over judicial confirmations in an article (no subscription required) written for today’s paper.

In the deal brokered in April, Mr. Reid agreed to confirm three nominees in exchange for Republicans shelving plans to shut down the Senate over the issue. But as the deadline approached, Mr. Reid insisted he had always said he “couldn’t guarantee” the confirmations. In the end he confirmed only Steven Agee for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, kicking the other 10 pending appellate nominees into the summer.

So far this year the Senate has confirmed a grand total of two circuit court judges. That’s unprecedented in its stinginess, even for a Senate controlled by the party that isn’t also in the White House. In Bill Clinton’s last Congress, a Republican Senate confirmed 15 appellate nominees, and Democrats confirmed 17 in Ronald Reagan’s last two years.

In the latest excuse for doing nothing, Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy is invoking the “Thurmond rule.” Under a precedent ostensibly created by Republican Strom Thurmond in 1980, confirmations of new judges cease after July in a presidential election year. But the Thurmond rule is a Democratic urban myth. Mr. Thurmond made the statement in question at a September 1980 hearing when his committee voted out 10 Jimmy Carter nominees a mere six weeks before the election.

The somewhat scathing opinion piece goes on to state that the Majority Leader’s strategy is “clearly to leave as many vacancies as possible for President Obama.”

Senate Republicans have recently touted the strong consensus agreement within their caucus to get tougher on Democratic members over the issue of judges. Thus far, that talk has not led to any significant slow-down in the Senate’s work other than the usual filibuster attempts that the Minority party often uses (be they Republican or Democrat).

It will be interesting to watch over the next few weeks to see if articles such as this one motivate Senate Republicans to follow through with their threats to essentially shut the Senate down by stalling work on any bill that comes up until additional nominees are confirmed. Such a move would be risky because people throughout the country already have such a negative view of Congress and their inability to “get things done.”

This article does suggest, however, that voters within the Republican party often cite what type of judge a presidential candidate would choose as being one of the most important issues to them, even more important than the war in Iraq.

Update:  It looks like Senate Republicans decided to follow through with their threats to shut the Senate down.


1 Comment

Filed under Nominations

One response to “WSJ Goes After Reid on Judges

  1. RE your post WSJ Goes After Reid on Judges

    See Leahy’s statement yesterday including another jud nom hearing and June 12th Committee vote on the 6th Circuit nominees

    Right-wing pressure includes yesterday’s absurd WSJ editorial “Harry’s Handshake” which singled out McConnell & Specter

    See my detailed posted reply below or at

    And my website .

    Glenn Sugameli

    Post Posted: Tue Jun 03, 2008 10:51 am Post subject: Re: Harry Reid’s Handshake “Harry Reid’s Handshake.”


    RE: “Harry Reid’s Handshake” (June 3)

    Unfortunately, the Journal’s editorial is inaccurate and misleading. A more complete report should reflect several key facts.

    First, the editorial begins: “Leading up to Memorial Day, Majority Leader Harry Reid walked away from his spring pledge to Senate Republicans to confirm three of President Bush’s judicial nominees by the holiday weekend.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, has confirmed that the agreement was only to use best efforts.

    Second, the delay in the scheduled votes on two 6th Circuit nominees was caused by Republican Senators’ demands to await a new American Bar Association rating for Helene White. She was rated Qualified when she was first nominated to the Sixth Circuit by President Clinton more than 11 years ago (the GOP-led Senate denied her a hearing for 1,454 days). Her May 28 ABA Well Qualified rating should satisfy the objections that postponed confirmation of White and 6th Circuit nominee Ray Kethledge beyond Memorial Day.

    Third, the editorial inaccurately refers to “Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, who is Ms. White’s cousin-in-law.” White divorced Levin’s cousin in November 2006.

    Fourth, President Bush has failed to nominate anyone to 16 vacancies, including several that have been declared judicial emergencies. The Senate has approved more than 300 of President George W. Bush’s lifetime judges, but cannot confirm lifetime judges who have not been nominated.

    Fifth, the editorial ignores the fact that there are now only 11 circuit court vacancies, the lowest in over a decade. After the Sixth Circuit confirmations, circuit court vacancies will fall to single digits. In contrast, in the 1996 presidential election year, the GOP Senate refused to confirm ANY circuit nominations, and the 2000 GOP Senate left 32 circuit seats open for President Bush.

    Sixth, the Thurmond rule has never applied to truly non-controversial nominations, including Stephen Breyer who enjoyed bi-partisan support based on his work for the Senate Judiciary Committee when he was confirmed to the First Circuit.

    Finally, vacancies result from Bush’s decision to select extreme nominees in order to re-ignite nomination wars.

    For example, at Bush’s request, New Jersey’s Senators agreed to elevate Noel Hillman, a Bush district judge, to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. In a bait-and switch, the Senators were only told about the actual nominee, Shalom Stone, after the nomination was announced.

    Fourth Circuit Bush nominee Steve A. Matthews was an officer and director of Mark R. Levin’s Landmark Legal Foundation when it tried to nominate Rush Limbaugh for a Nobel Peace Prize. Levin ridicules global warming as “phony,” and Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) as a “liberal idiot.” Levin also wrote that Matthews “supported me in all I do.”

    Robert Conrad Jr., another Fourth Circuit nominee, denounced Sister Helen Prejean as a “church-hating nun” and her book, “Dead Man Walking,” as “liberal drivel.” He approved burying streams with mine waste–which three dissenting judges said “eviscerates” Clean Water Act language.

    Bush’s lifetime judges are confirmed when he respects the Senate’s advise-and-consent role.

    For more see Earthjustice’s website

    -Glenn Sugameli
    Senior Legislative Counsel
    [I have headed Earthjustice’s Judging the Environment project on federal judicial nominations since 2001].

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s