After eight years of unfairly smearing and blatantly obstructing the confirmation of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees -- purportedly to advance bipartisanship -- Democrats now find that the shoe is on the other foot.  And that shoe no longer fits. Brand New Administration, Same Old Judges War?

After eight years of unfairly smearing and blatantly obstructing the confirmation of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees -- purportedly to advance bipartisanship -- Democrats now find that the shoe is on the other foot.  And that shoe no longer fits.

Instead, liberals have now apparently decided that the long-standing and well-established rules of the judicial confirmation game should no longer be any impediment to installing President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees on the bench -- no matter whom they might be.  This despite the fact that Senate Democrats used any and all such procedural maneuvers to thwart the confirmation of judges from the very beginning until the very end of the Bush administration.

The Democrats fired what figures to be the first of many judicial confirmation shots across the Republican bow less than a month after taking the reins of both the White House and the Congress.  In early February, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) hinted that the traditional “blue slip” policy -- under which Senate action will not be taken on a judicial nominee unless both home-state Senators approve by returning their “blue slips” -- might not be honored now that President Obama will be making the judicial selections.

Such hypocrisy was not unexpected -- this is politics, after all -- but it does demonstrate that the Democrats believe the rules of the judicial confirmation game should only work to benefit liberals, not conservatives.

Indeed, Chairman Leahy’s hint that he would simply throw out the nearly hundred-year-old tradition of allowing home-state Senators, whether Democrat or Republican, to decide whether a judicial nominee will move forward was met with glee by the liberal media.

This past week, an editorial in the New York Times boldly -- and baldly -- asserted that “[b]lue slips … are undemocratic and are subject to abuse.”  The Times editorial went on to state that the Senate blue slip policy “should be allowed to die a quiet death.”

That call seems particularly hypocritical for the Gray Lady to be making now, after ignoring the “undemocratic” and “abusive” ability of home-state Senators to kill judicial nominations for the past eight years, when a President of a different political party was nominating judges from the same Oval Office.

In fact, the Senate’s traditional blue slip policy claimed more than few victims during the Bush administration.

Most notably, Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) refused to allow action on any of President Bush’s judicial nominees to Michigan seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit until President Bush agreed to re-nominate President Clinton’s previous choice of Helene White to that court.  The result was that four Michigan nominees waited for years for any movement on their judicial nominations, with one of the nominees, Judge Henry Saad, eventually having to withdraw after being filibustered.

What’s more unbelievable and egregious about that obstructive example from the past is that the nomination Senators Levin and Stabenow used their “blue slip” power to get -- that of former Clinton nominee Helene White -- was one based on nepotism, since now-Judge White was formerly married to Senator Levin’s cousin.

Luckily, Senate Republicans seem unified in taking action to ensure that the Democrats don’t use a double standard in playing the judicial confirmation game now that they control both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue.

In a letter sent to President Obama and copied to Chairman Leahy last week, “All Republican Senators” explained -- “as our Democratic colleagues have emphasized for the last several years -- that “the process of federal appointments is a shared constitutional responsibility.”  As a result, the entire Republic Senate conference stated that it “expect[ed]” the Senate and its Judiciary Committee to “observe[ ]” the traditional “blue slip” policy “even-handedly and regardless of party affiliation.”  Moreover, the Republican Senators drew a firm line in the sand, writing that “we will act to preserve this principle and the rights of our colleagues if it is not.”

Such a demand is both fair and warranted given the fact that the Democrats used the “blue slip” power to delay, obstruct, and kill more than a few of President Bush’s judicial nominees who enjoyed not only the obvious qualifications to sit on the bench but also the majority support necessary to be confirmed.

As prominent conservative commentator Edward Whelan noted on National Review’s “Bench Memos” blog: “All that Senate Republicans are seeking is maintenance of the same blue-slip practice that Democrats successfully insisted on under President Bush.”

But Republicans also have the moral high ground in the continuing Judges War.  As they noted in their letter to President Obama, and copied to chairman Leahy: “[I]n the beginning of his Administration, [President Bush] demonstrated his desire to improve the judicial confirmation process by nominating to the circuit courts two of President Clinton’s previous judicial nominees, Judge Barrington Parker to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and Judge Roger Gregory to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.”  Given President Obama’s promise to “change” the partisan “tone in Washington,” the letter continued, it would help if the new “Administration would take the same bipartisan step.”

Indeed, the Republican Senators’ letter explained that, “[b]ecause the last Congress sadly set the modern record for the fewest circuit court confirmations in a President’s final Congress, there are plenty of well-qualified nominees with bipartisan support from whom to choose” -- specifically singling out former Supreme Court clerk and Acting Attorney General Peter Keisler and Judges Glen Conrad and Paul Diamond.

The ball is now in the Democrats’ -- and specifically, President Obama’s -- court.

On the campaign trail, Candidate Obama touted a revolutionary “change” for Washington where bipartisanship would be the rule and not the exception.  So far he has failed to deliver.  So it is right for the Republicans and all Americans to ask whether our new President and the political party he leads intend to continue the same old Judges War.

March 12, 2009
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