Saturday, March 16, 2002
Well, I knew it didn't happen very often, but today's Wall Street Journal points out that the killing of judicial nominations in committee is indeed a rare occurrence. The latest episode involved Bush nominee Charles Pickering. Pickering's nomination was killed in committee on Thursday in a straight party-line vote. The committee also refused to send the nomination to the floor without recommendation, or even with a negative recommendation. Democrats refused to do this because at least 3 Democrats had vowed to vote for Pickering. They, along with 49 Republicans would have guaranteed Pickering's nomination.
From media reports, statements from Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and pundits, I was under the impression that killing of nominees in committee was a tactic that, though rarely used, was bipartisan in nature. According to the Wall Street Journal editorial page:
In fact, it's extremely rare. It didn't happen at all when Republicans controlled the committee during the Clinton years. The sole Clinton nominee to be defeated was Ronnie White--and he at least made it out of committee and onto the floor, where a majority voted against his nomination.
A nominee was last defeated in committee in 1991, when Democrats stopped Kenneth Ryskamp, nominated by the first President Bush for the 11th Circuit, on a 7-7 vote. The time before that was 1988, when Reagan nominee Bernard Siegan never made it out of Judiciary. Again, the Democrats were in control. A third Republican nominee, Jeff Sessions, was defeated in 1986, this time to the federal district court; Mr. Sessions is now a Senator from Alabama and sits on Judiciary himself.
The Democrat-run Judiciary Committee almost managed to kill two other circuit-court nominations during the Reagan years: Daniel Manion, nominee for the Seventh Circuit in 1986, and Susan Liebeler, nominee for the Federal Circuit in 1988. In both cases, the first vote--on whether to send the nomination to the floor with a recommendation--failed. A second vote succeeded, however, and the nominations went to the floor without recommendation. Judge Manion was confirmed; Mr. Reagan's term expired before the Senate voted on Ms. Liebeler.
Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Joe Biden (D-N.H.) are also hypocrites of the first order.
Senator Leahy used to disavow this kind of brute partisan force. Five years ago he said: "Every Senator can vote against any nominee. Every Senator has that right. . . . They can vote against them [in] this committee and on the floor. But it is the responsibility of the U.S. Senate to at least bring them to a vote." Joe Biden, who also plans to kill Judge Pickering in committee, said in 1997 that "I also respectfully suggest that everyone who is nominated is entitled to have a shot, to have a hearing and to have a shot to be heard on the floor and have a vote on the floor."
I would hope that reporters would call Leahy and Biden on their flip-flop, but I'm doubtful. There's criticism now directed at Sen. Trent Lott's refusal to OK $1.5 million for a judiciary committee inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks.
I don't think that the tit-for-tat is necessarily the best thing. But if Democrats want a litmus test for judicial nominees and want them bottled up in committee, they should certainly fear how they will be treated when the Senate is once again in Republican hands, and when a Democrat next sits in the White House.