Democrats Shrug Off GOP Push on Judges

Posted April 11, 2008 at 6:05pm

Despite Senate Republicans’ concerted efforts to resurrect the controversial issue of judicial nominations — which helped bolster their performance in the 2004 elections — Democrats have shown little interest in engaging on the issue except to use the subject as a venue to attack Republican economic policies.

For the past several weeks, Judiciary ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and a host of Republican lawmakers have used the chamber floor, committee meetings and press events to rail against what they view as the slow- walking of President Bush’s judicial nominees by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Specter, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other Republicans on several occasions have warned that the GOP could use parliamentary tactics to jam up the Senate floor or block pending legislation, including the patent reform bill, if the nominations don’t move.

For instance, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) warned, “I think you are going to see people start to jam the body down” with procedural motions if more judges are not confirmed, while McConnell warned in a recent interview with Roll Call that his Conference is largely united around the need to force action.

“I think that when you have 100 percent unanimity amongst 49 Senators that there’s something wrong [and] something is going to happen … it needs to change and it needs to happen soon,” McConnell said.

But unlike in previous years when the topic of Bush’s judicial nominations has been a flash point for partisan warfare — and triggered efforts by moderates to mediate the conflict — thus far, most of the bomb-throwing has been largely one way.

Democratic lawmakers said last week that they simply don’t believe the issue has reached a crisis point.

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), one of the leaders of the “Gang of 14” that brokered a truce to the 2005 “nuclear” option showdown between then-Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and then-Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“I do think Republicans are frustrated … [but] I don’t know how justified their frustrations are,” Pryor said, noting that he was supporting one of the five district court nominees who were voted on Friday and who had been pending for months.

Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), the other Democratic leader of the “Gang of 14,” agreed, saying that this week’s flare-up of GOP complaints was “the first I’ve heard of it” and that he was unsure whether Republican frustrations would rise to the level that the group may reconvene.

Nelson also said that inevitably there is a marked reduction in confirmations during a president’s last year in office and that it remains unclear whether the issue will boil over. “Obviously there’s always a slowdown during the last year,” Nelson said, adding that “if there is an issue, I’m sure it will emerge, but I’m not going to go create it” in order to resume the gang’s work.

Leahy, who has largely brushed aside Republican complaints this year as partisan posturing, argued on the Senate floor Thursday that the sudden uptick in GOP interest in the nominations is an example of what he views as Republicans’ misplaced priorities.

Noting that the Senate was to vote on five nominations Thursday, Leahy argued: “Despite the progress we continue to make and will make today, some of the rhetoric from the other side of the aisle suggests that judicial confirmations is the most pressing and unsatisfied need facing the country. With an economic recession now facing Americans, the massive job losses this year and the home mortgage foreclosures and credit crisis, any partisan effort to create an issue over judicial confirmations is misplaced.”