With the clock running down on President Bush’s final term, Senate Republicans are finding themselves with precious little time to push through his remaining judicial nominees. In a last ditch effort to rouse the public to their side, several GOP Senators, along with some choice conservative academics, held a press conference yesterday to accuse their Democratic colleagues of treating the president’s pending nominees unfairly. Lucky for Senate Democrats, the facts are on their side.
At the press conference, much was made, particularly by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-PA), of end of term confirmation averages -- 15 circuit court judges were confirmed in the last year of President Clinton’s final term, while only 10 Bush judges have made it through the Senate. But that is like arguing that because your sibling received six birthday presents last year, you automatically deserve seven. Hey, it’s only fair!
What the esteemed senators from Pennsylvania and Kentucky (and for that matter North Carolina) forgot to mention was that no matter how many judges were confirmed during the last year of President Clinton’s final term, vacancy rates on the federal judiciary are currently at historic lows. When President Clinton left office, there were 26 circuit court vacancies. Currently, there are only nine. Besides, President Bush has received some pretty big gifts this past term -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito anyone?
Speakers at yesterday’s event made several other general statements about fairness, ranging from the need to move on consensus nominees to the attention that must be paid to a nominee’s qualifications. But all of these arguments add up to mere distractions from, and in some cases distortions of, the truth. It is easy for a Republican president to receive “consensus” support from a nominee’s home-state senators when both of those senators happen to also be Republican (think North Carolina nominee Robert Conrad). And the president’s nominees are not chosen for their qualifications as much as their ultra-conservative ideology (for proof, see GOP outrage at the nomination of Judge Helene White).
Yesterday’s press conference was nothing more than the usual empty conservative rhetoric on judges. Maybe instead of focusing on the “fair” treatment of President Bush’s nominees, Senators McConnell, Specter and Dole (R-NC) should be concerned about how fairly these nominees will treat the American people, who rely on the courts as the final arbiter and avenue of last resort.