President Bush has again set the stage for a showdown with Democrats over his judicial picks, re-nominating 12 candidates to the federal bench who previously failed to obtain Senate confirmation.
On Monday, Bush described the nominees as “well-qualified men and women” who deserve a confirmation vote. But the president’s decision could destroy any chance of achieving his stated goal of creating a more bipartisan atmosphere in the nation’s capital.
The 12 nominees failed to win confirmation because opposition Democrats, for various reasons, staged filibusters, thus blocking floor votes. Republicans in this go-round are considering what has been described as the “nuclear option” _ a change in Senate rules that would prohibit the filibuster of judicial nominees.
That suggestion has drawn the wrath of Democrats, who warn its imposition will carry ramifications for other initiatives pending before the Senate. Under current rules, 60 votes are required to end debate and force a vote in the 100-member chamber. None of the 12 nominees could muster the necessary votes.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Bush is “at it again with extremist judges,” asserting the president’s inability to nominate deserving candidates “demonstrates the Bush administration’s failure to craft a positive agenda for the American people.”
“We should not divert attention from other pressing issues facing this nation to re-debate the merits of nominees already found too extreme by this chamber,” he said.
The debate over judicial nominations hasn’t attracted much mainstream attention, given that the Senate has confirmed 204 of Bush’s judicial nominations over the past four years while bypassing only the 12 _ those viewed by Democrats as extremely conservative.
But judicial nominations remain a vital issue in the eyes of Christian evangelicals, one of the president’s most significant political blocs. Evangelicals are hoping a more conservative judiciary will take another look at controversial decisions like Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that established a woman’s right to an abortion.
Carrie Gordon Earll, a senior policy analyst for the conservative Focus on the Family, said an opportunity exists to “restrain an increasingly activist federal judiciary that insists on creating law, rather than interpreting it.”
“In anticipation of possible vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court, Focus on the Family-Action will mobilize pro-life Americans in support of nominees who are ‘judicial interpreters’ rather than ‘judicial activists’ when such vacancies occur,” she said.
That prospect has motivated liberal groups to actively oppose the 12 nominees. Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, said the re-nominations prove Bush “has chosen renewed, bitter partisan warfare on Capitol Hill.” The slate, he said, establishes that the president wants to “pack the federal courts with right-wing ideologues.”
“If justices and judges like these are appointed, they will roll back decades of social justice progress,” Neas said. “Say goodbye to a woman’s right to choose. Prepare for the steady erosion of treasured civil rights and freedom of expression.”
Democrats maintain the 12 who were re-nominated are out of the mainstream and questioned their views on civil rights and ideologically driven legal decisions.
In one case, Thomas B. Griffith, nominated to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Washington D.C. Circuit, was rejected because, among other reasons, he practiced law without a license. Griffith’s license to practice in the District of Columbia lapsed in 1998 when he failed to pay his dues. He thereafter served as general counsel for Brigham Young University even though his application for a license in Utah was rejected.
(E-mail Bill Straub at StraubB(at)shns.com.)