Thursday, July 20, 2006

Frist Fritters Away Judicial Nominations

From Robert Novak's latest political update --

Judicial Nominations: Remember when Senate Republican leaders were pushing to confirm judicial nominees and complaining that Democrats were holding them up with unprecedented filibusters? Republicans would complain that the Senate was not getting a chance to vote -- "up or down" -- on President Bush's appellate court nominees, and Democrats would respond, with numbers and charts, that nearly all of Bush's nominees were being confirmed. Now it appears that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is pulling away from the issue of judicial confirmations and resting on the laurels of the Senate's successes to date.

Since the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, the Senate seems to have suddenly gone quiet on the topic of judicial nominations. Even more bizarre, Frist is now sounding a lot like Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) sounded a few months ago as he downplayed the Democrats' obstruction of judges. A recent press release from Frist's office notes: "Currently 94.4% of all judgeships are filled, including 91.1% of all circuit court judgeships and 95.3% of all district court judgeships. Under Senator Frist's leadership, the Senate has made considerable progress on President Bush's judicial nominees, including confirming two Supreme Court justices, 28 circuit court judges, and 112 district court judges and decreasing the number of circuit court vacancies by 36%."

Republican used to counter this by pointing to the large number of appellate nominees whom Democrats were blocking.

But the Frist of today not only sounds like Leahy, but also sounds like he is using the theme of judicial success in order to boost his prospective presidential run in 2008.

Frist fears a "nuclear" confrontation over some of the current nominees -- particularly appellate nominees Terrence Boyle and William Haynes. His very legitimate problem is that he may not have the votes to pull the so-called "nuclear" trigger and confirm either of them with a mere 50 votes.

Still, he can always try, and Democratic intransigence on judicial filibusters could once again become their party's undoing. True, much of the problem this time is Republicans -- namely Senators McCain and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who are holding up Haynes because of a memo he authored on the treatment of Guantanamo detainees. But McCain wants to be President, and Graham faces a potentially difficult primary in 2008.

The 2002 and 2004 election cycles made Janice Rogers-Brown, William Pryor and Miguel Estrada into political talking points -- just in time to sour the heartland on Democratic obstructionism. This played no small part in huge GOP gains those years. The diffusion of this issue in 2006 is not good for the GOP.

Meanwhile, the 55-Republican-member Senate now has a similar confirmation rate for appellate judges as former Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) had long ago on confirming Clinton nominees to the appellate court. Hatch had been bottling up Clinton judges in the Judiciary Committee.