Senator Thurmond sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the body plagued by obstructionist politics for its dealings, or lack thereof... Broken Promises and Partisan Politics Shed(d)Light on State
of Judicial Confirmation Process

When people think of the U.S. Senate and its history, the name Strom Thurmond comes to mind. The Senior Republican Senator from South Carolina has served in the distinguished chamber for more than 48 years. He is the oldest member ever to serve in Congress; he will turn 100 in December. But when the 107th Congress adjourns for the year, Senator Thurmond, who is ailing, will retire.

Senator Thurmond sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the body plagued by obstructionist politics for its dealings, or lack thereof, with President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees since Democrats became the majority more than a year ago. The infamous "Gang of Ten" controlling the committee, led by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), has successfully managed to redefine, both substantively and procedurally, the standards by which federal judges are confirmed — political ideology is now the benchmark; traditional considerations of judicial temperament and respect for the rule of law no longer count.

Already this year, the committee voted along party lines to defeat two of President Bush’s nominees for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Texas Supreme Court Justice Pricilla Owen and Judge Charles Pickering. Both had bipartisan support for confirmation in the full Senate. Both were refused votes on the Senate floor.

The Committee met this week in what appears to be its last business meeting of the session, and no doubt the last ever for Senator Thurmond. The committee was to consider judicial confirmations, including that of Judge Dennis Shedd to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Shedd, whose confirmation has been held in political limbo since May 2001, is a former staffer of Senator Thurmond, who championed his confirmation. The Senator had been given all assurances by Chairman Leahy, the latest coming as recently as last week, that Judge Shedd would be granted a committee vote. Senator Thurmond, a man of principle and integrity, made the mistake of taking Leahy at his dubious word.

With unprecedented impudence for Senate rules and courtesy, Leahy reneged on his multiple promises. Judge Shedd didn’t get a vote. He was apparently "out of the mainstream." The radical special interests that pull the Leahy puppet strings told us so. And, when the Chairman heard that Judge Shedd’s confirmation actually had a chance of passing in committee, he refused it a vote — disrespecting Senator Thurmond and further mocking the Senate’s "Advice and Consent" role in the process.

"The liberal special interest groups are the ones who call the shots around here. When they say, 'Jump,' some appear to say, 'How high?'," said Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee. "It is a sad day for this committee and for the entire Senate when one of our members does not abide by his word."

The Senate will adjourn this year leaving 27 seats vacant in the federal circuit courts, 16 of which are considered judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. That doesn’t seem to faze Chairman Leahy, who apparently believes the politicalization of justice is more important than the administration of justice.

We bid farewell to the Senior Senator from South Carolina, who served his constituency and his country. Politics aside, he will be missed by all who respect the chamber in which he has served for so many years.

The same can never be said for Leahy, whose chairmanship will forever be defined by partisanship and deceit.

As the Wall Street Journal editorial page so bluntly articulated, Senator Thurmond’s "parting words say a lot about Mr. Leahy’s brand of low-rent, smash-mouth politics." "I took you at your word," said Thurmond to Leahy during the committee meeting. "In my 48 years in the United States Senate, I have never been treated in such a manner."

Neither have the nominees considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

October 11, 2002
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