You know how the word “irony” is so hard for some people to define? Well, if the dictionary’s meaning has left you unsatisfied, look no further than the Concerned Women for America’s (CWA) press conference on Judge Robert Conrad’s nomination to the Fourth Circuit. Yesterday afternoon, in a nearly empty room in the Senate’s Dirksen Building, Judge Conrad’s cronies were trotted out one by one to discuss his merits. But despite CWA’s sponsorship, the group barely had a presence; in fact, there were hardly any women in the room at all.
Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) added to the irony; the issues they pressed upon so relentlessly had little to do with Judge Conrad’s legal viewpoints. Apparently they don’t see any need to discuss the legal views of a potential federal appeals court judge. But, thanks to Senator Sessions, we now know what a gifted point guard Judge Conrad was for the Clemson basketball team. Too bad his court vision nowadays leaves something to be desired.
Judge Conrad’s record on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina is troubling to say the least. Of the 12 employment discrimination cases he presided over (10 on the district court and two sitting by designation on the Fourth Circuit), he either wrote or joined summary judgment opinions in 11 of them, effectively taking the jury out of the case and preventing the plaintiff from receiving a fair shake. When Conrad was on the Fourth Circuit, he took part in an environmental decision contradicting a district court finding that the Army Corps of Engineers had violated the Clean Water Act. It was a decision that, according to his dissenting colleague, Judge King, “undermine[d] the CWA’s primary purpose of protecting the environment.”
Of course, our favorite performance of the day was Curt Levey’s. We weren’t too surprised when Mr. Levey, a spokesman for the Committee for Justice, walked out and started to take part in some good, old-fashioned ad hominem attacks.
Mr. Levey declared AFJ pro-polygamy and biased against Southern white males. Why go with the facts when you can fall back on tired old talking points designed to appeal to the right-wing base?
Mr. Levey’s reading of AFJ’s reports opposing the nomination of Judge Conrad is as twisted as his reading of the Constitution. He said that AFJ and other groups have accused Judge Conrad of being anti-Catholic. While it’s sad that this sort of distortion even has to be dignified with a response, AFJ does not believe Judge Conrad to be anti-Catholic. We do, however, know he called Dead Man Walking author Sister Helen Prejean a “church-hating nun,” and that such vitriolic pronouncements do not speak well of his respect for views other than his own.
As much as Mr. Levey and the rest of the pro-Conrad bunch cry foul, this press conference signified just how much the Republicans relish in politicizing the process. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) observed that “No individual should have their lives on hold for 338 days like Bob Conrad.” His colleagues at the podium didn’t seem to share that stance during the Clinton administration. Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), along with Senators Sessions and Specter, didn’t take part in any press conferences decrying the 542 days Kathleen McCree’s nomination languished, or the 1,532—yes, 1,532—days endured by Helene White.
Senators Specter and Sessions should easily remember Judge White: they voted against her renewed nomination in committee just last week. Why vote against Helene White? Because, unlike Judge Conrad, she isn’t one of their own—an ultraconservative bent on pursuing an ideological agenda from the bench. Senate Republicans have been talking a lot lately about judicial emergencies and swift confirmations, but their actions belie their words. For all of their rhetoric, Senate Republicans have no interest in reducing the federal judiciary’s vacancy rate—their only concern is ensuring a complete conservative takeover of the federal bench.
A little too ironic, don’t you think?