Politicians attempting to pander to their base is nothing new. In fact, it's not even surprising. Both parties take advantage of this political strategy, but during the Bush years the Republicans have managed to turn it into an art form. Realizing that the end of their heyday (otherwise known as the Bush presidency) is rapidly approaching, Republican senators are shocked to find themselves on the losing side of the debate on health-care, the economy and the war in Iraq. As a result, beleagured GOP Senators have turned to an old party favorite: judges.
Leading this charge to the right is Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Having faced a particularly tough challenger in his 2004 primary contest, Sen. Specter is all too acquainted with the dangers of a disgruntled conservative base. And according to The Hill, he is attempting to appease that base by starting an election-year row over President Bush’s circuit court nominees.
Over the past month, Sen. Specter has repeatedly threatened to “shut down the Senate” if his colleagues on the Judiciary Committee don’t start approving Bush’s pending judicial nominees. He argues that Senate Democrats unfairly stall these nominations, thumbing their noses at their constitutional responsibility to confirm judges. The senator’s frustration reached a boiling point last week during a Committee vote on Fifth Circuit Nominee Catherina Haynes. Sen. Specter and his fellow Republicans spent so much time denouncing their Democratic colleagues, that they almost forgot to vote on their own judge.
With the end of Bush’s term rapidly approaching, a certain amount of Republican pressure to push through his remaining judicial nominees was not unexpected. But the extent to which Sen. Specter has made this an issue has surprised many, and led some to infer that “Specter’s strong criticism and threats [are] motivated by his own political survival.”
Conservatives have historically been disappointed with Sen. Specter’s reluctance to support Bush’s tax-cuts. His general support of labor-unions and his opposition to Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court led several in his party to resist his nomination to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee. Having won his Party’s nomination in 2004 by a mere 2 points, Sen. Specter now finds himself with precious little time to set the record straight on judges. As Connie Mackey of the Family Research Council said, “He has reached out to some degree…but he doesn’t have any success to offer.”
It seems strange that Senate Republicans would accuse the Senate Democrats of “playing politics” on judges. Particularly considering that its senators like Arlen Specter who are attempting to use this issue as a wedge to energize their base. The Senate has a responsibility to the American public to ensure a fair and independent judiciary. It should resist the temptation to play election-year politics and refuse to confirm any controversial nominees, especially those who do not have the support of their home-state senators.