The controversy resulting from the Democratic senators' obstruction of judicial nominees has reached yet another boiling point. Last week Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) highlighted the immense disparity on the number of judicial nominees confirmed during former President Clinton's term in office and that of President Bush's. He said this "decisive imbalance" requires "prompt action."
Fifty-seven district court judges were confirmed during the last two years of President Clinton's administration, compared to only 34 during President Bush's. Additionally, during the last two years of the Clinton Administration, 15 circuit court judges were confirmed compared to only six for President Bush thus far.
Even more egregious, there hasn't been a single confirmation of a federal judge this year. Sen. Specter said, "Since September 25 of last year, there has only been one hearing for a circuit judge, and that was on February 21, in the midst of a recess."
This pattern is nothing new, though. Last year, only four circuit court judges were given a hearing.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clinton presidency, chastised the Democrats for failing to uphold their constitutional duty over partisan politics. In an op-ed for National Review Online, he said:
I have voted against only five of the more than 1,500 nominees to life-tenured judicial positions that the full Senate has considered since I was first elected. Some Democratic senators, including those with far less seniority, have voted against more than three times as many nominees of the current president alone.
This historic dismantling of the constitutional "advise and consent" process by Democratic senators has prompted Sen. Specter to talk about shutting down the Senate, which would halt all Senate activity until President Bush's judicial nominees are given consideration, and appropriately so. Partisan politics cannot circumvent the Constitution.
There is no question that judicial nominees are being held up for little more than partisan politics. This was apparent in yesterday's markup hearing when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) confronted Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, about Fourth District Nominee Robert Conrad.
Sen. Leahy apparently was not prepared for this and seemed to have no answer as to why this extremely qualified nominee has not yet had a hearing. Then, in an unbelievable turn of events, Sen. Leahy accused Judge Conrad of making "anti-Catholic comments." What prompted Sen. Leahy to make such a remark is unclear, but the comment was particularly insulting because Judge Conrad is a Catholic.
Judge Conrad serves as Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court of the Western District of North Carolina. He is a highly respected jurist with strong support from his home state Senators Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and Richard Burr (R-NC). He also received the American Bar Association's highest rating of "well qualified."
The seat to which Chief Judge Conrad is nominated is considered one of 19 "judicial emergencies" by the Judicial Conference of the United States. A Court of Appeals judicial emergency is asserted when the amount of filings per judicial panel becomes unmanageable (in excess of 700) or if the vacancy has existed for more than 18 months (with filings above 500). The effects of a judicial emergency directly affect the people because essentially there are not enough judges to handle the caseload.
In Judge Conrad's case, the vacancy was created by Judge James Dickson Phillips, Jr. (retired) and has been pending for a whopping 5,000 days, by far the largest stretch of all judicial emergencies. Yet Sen. Leahy has purposely stalled Judge Conrad's nomination since he was nominated on July 17, 2007.
The complete disregard and contempt for the Constitution and mere truth exhibited by Sen. Leahy and his liberal consorts must end. We applaud Republican senators for standing up and calling out the Democrats on their obstruction, but the time for talk has to come to an end. It is time to walk the walk.
The people want to see judicial nominees get a fair up-or-down vote, and Republican senators should use every tool at their disposal to see that this happens.
Sen. Leahy should apologize to Judge Conrad, and the judge should be given an immediate hearing and prompt vote.
Peter Keisler, nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is also a nominee with an impressive record who should promptly receive an up-or-down vote. President Bush first nominated Keisler on June 29, 2006 -- more than 630 days ago -- making him one of the nominees to have waited the longest for a vote.
Mr. Keisler has a distinguished record as a practicing attorney, including arguing before the Supreme Court, and an impressive career at the Department of Justice (DOJ) where he was responsible for the DOJ's largest litigating division.
But a candidate's record is apparently of little importance these days; it seems the only important thing for Democrats is that they confirm the fewest judges possible until their "salvation" comes this November.
Enough is enough. The Constitution transcends party lines and childish resentments. Senators must realize that it is "we the people" who suffer when they fail to act on their constitutional mandates.
If a senator does not like a candidate, he can vote to not confirm him. But he must vote. Every candidate deserves an up-or-down vote.
It is time for senators to work for something more than their party. They work for the people. And the people need for these judicial emergencies to be filled.
Mario Diaz, Esq. is Policy Director for Legal Issues at Concerned Women for America.