The American Bar Association sent an important message to the U.S. Senate: Stop using the federal courts as a political club for beating President Bush over the head.
The actual wording was politically neutral, a concession to Democrats in the ABA House of Delegates. It simply implored the president and Senate to move quickly in filling judicial vacancies. Clearly the message was intended for the Senate, however, given its egregious stonewalling of Bush's nominees.
There are 80 vacancies on the federal bench, including 27 on appeals courts. Dockets are backing up, and the Senate leadership apparently couldn't care less. Several circuit court nominees have waited for more than a year without even the courtesy of a Judiciary Committee hearing.
At last count, 52 percent of Bush's nominees had been confirmed.
By contrast, 90 percent of the previous president's nominees were confirmed during his first two years in office. Admittedly, Bush hasn't been in office two years yet. Time is running out, however, particularly since Congress generally goes home early in election years -- and there has been no indication by Majority Leader Tom Daschle that he plans to speed up the process.
Daschle and his followers won't allow significant tax cuts, which are badly needed to jump-start the economy. They load down homeland security bills with pork, creating budget deficits that they try to blame on the president. And they refuse to fill judicial appointments, perhaps hoping Bush also will be blamed for the slow pace of justice.
The Senate's Democratic leadership says it is leery of Bush's appointees because many interpret the Constitution to mean only what its authors intended.
But if the Constitution's meaning is to be changed daily, there is no point in having a constitution -- and all inalienable rights are meaningless because they are subject to repeal at the whim of any judge at any given time.
As the Democrats said when they occupied the White House, there should be no philosophical litmus test for serving on the federal bench. The only issues should be judicial scholarship and temperament. If those criteria were used, nearly all of the president's appointees would be confirmed quickly.
--The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville
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