Senate should make filling judicial seats top priority in January

What others say

Posted: Monday, November 25, 2002

One of the top priorities of the U.S. Senate, when it convenes in January, should be to fill judicial openings.

Even with the confirmation of District Judge Dennis Shedd to an appellate court during the lame-duck session, there are still dozens of vacancies -- and that is causing a tremendous backlog of cases.

Most, if not all, of the nominees are well qualified in terms of legal expertise and judicial temperament. For the past two years, however, the Democratic leadership has refused to allow a floor vote on many of them.

With the Republicans now in control, at last the Senate is free to act.

That doesn't mean it will be easy to get them confirmed. The Democratic leadership wants only judges committed to pursuing a liberal political agenda from the bench -- and most of President Bush's nominees, believing judges should litigate instead of legislate, wouldn't do that.

The Democratic leadership says it may filibuster against some of them. The idea would be to shut down the Senate until the president withdraws the nominations -- an irresponsible strategy that would render Congress incapable of passing legislation, no matter how vital, during a particularly troubled period in American history when some leadership from Washington is sorely needed.

In 1998, Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, "I would ... fight against any filibuster on a judge, whether it is somebody I opposed or supported." At the time, a Democratic president was trying to get his judicial nominees confirmed by a Republican Senate.

A few days ago, however, Leahy said, "If there's a really bad nominee, I think a filibuster is merited." He spoke knowing that in a few weeks, a Republican president would be submitting his selections to a GOP Senate.

Leahy's situational ethics proves he and his partisan sidekicks are driven by politics, not principle.

Apparently, he learned nothing from his party's Nov. 5 election defeat.

-- Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville - Nov. 23

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