Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on two Sixth Circuit nominees, Helene N. White and Raymond M. Kethledge. Along with G. Steven Agee’s hearing last week, theirs will put the number of President Bush’s circuit court nominees who have received hearings over the past week to three. It is clear that Sen. Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is working to fulfill an agreement made last month by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to move three circuit court nominees before Memorial Day recess.
Sen. McConnell, however, is not satisfied with the candidates Sen. Leahy has selected. Despite the facts that Virginia Supreme Court Justice Agee comes with bipartisan support from both of his home-state senators and Mr. Kethledge has been awaiting a hearing for almost two years, the Minority Leader would prefer that the committee consider more conservative nominees.
In a recent letter, Sen. McConnell and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Arlen Specter (R-PA) called on Sen. Leahy to schedule hearings for Peter Keisler, nominated to the DC Circuit, and Robert Conrad and Steve Matthews, both of whom have been nominated to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (the same court as Justice Agee).
Attempting to mask their intentions for suggesting these controversial nominees, Senators McConnell and Specter wrote that they were simply concerned with fairness – Mr. Conrad and Mr. Stevens were both nominated before Mr. Agee. But the truth is that Mr. Kethledge’s nomination was sent to the Senate a full year before either Mr. Conrad’s or Mr. Matthews’. In addition Ms. White waited for three years to receive a hearing during the Clinton administration, but never overcame Republican efforts to block her nomination. Clearly, fairness is not Sen. McConnell’s main concern.
By close of business tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will have considered three of President Bush’s circuit court nominees in less than seven days. For months now, Senate Republicans have condemned their Democratic colleagues for not confirming enough judges, but this latest controversy demonstrates that it is they who are playing partisan games. The Senate GOP is far less concerned with the number of judges they confirm than they are with the conservative ideology of those who are appointed.