Thursday, April 11

Pickeringed: Part I of a Two Part Column on Judicial Nominations

If the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have any scraps of decency left in the foul rag and bone shops of their hearts, they will hang their heads and hurry awkwardly by each time they encounter Rep. Charles "Chip" Pickering, Jr. in the halls of Congress. They certainly ought to after what they just did to his father. After cooperating with leftist interest groups to hurl slanderous barbs at Judge Charles Pickering from the sidelines, the ten Democratic members of the committee subjected him to a hearing so bitterly partisan that it would have embarrassed the most zealous members of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

While Senator Ted Kennedy, the bull-elephant of his party and a veteran of judicial battles, slouched unctuously behind his microphone, his protégés, New York Senator Chuck Schumer and North Carolina Senator John Edwards, the latter an earnest young pantywaist with Presidential ambitions, mounted the sort of reckless assault on Judge Pickering's character that would, in a nobler age, have demanded satisfaction. (Of course, a gentleman would only seek satisfaction from another gentleman and Senator Kennedy, at least, fails an elementary test: a gentleman opens the car door for a lady.) Once the damage was done and the Judge's nomination sunk by a party line vote, Schumer punctuated the farce by intoning to the press that Judge Pickering was, after all, a "decent and honest man. . . . But we don't elevate a person to the second highest court in the land just because he is not a racist. We have to have a higher standard than that." Thus, in a triumph of political doubletalk and backhanded race-baiting was the distinguished career of a judge who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as a district court judge and whose exemplary record of service on the bench earned him the A.B.A.'s highest rating of "well qualified," dismissed as amounting to no more than "he is not a racist." Any one of the judge's many black supporters in his home state could have confirmed as much and saved the committee the bother of holding a hearing..

But the disgraceful treatment Judge Pickering at the hands of the Judiciary Committee is only the most visible manifestation of the broader siege that the Democratic Party has laid against the depleted federal judiciary. In fact, Judge Pickering could be considered one of the most fortunate of President Bush's nominees; at least he received a hearing! At a time when ninety-three seats on federal courts stand empty, including a third of the twelve seats on the vital D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and fully half of the sixteen seats on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Democrats have slowed the process of confirming judicial nominees nearly to a standstill. In the fourteen months since he took office, President Bush has nominated 29 circuit court judges, of whom seven have been confirmed (including two holdovers first nominated by President Clinton and re-nominated by President Bush). By comparison, in their first two years in office, Clinton nominated 22 circuit court judges, of whom nineteen were confirmed, Bush père nominated 23, of whom 22 were confirmed, and Reagan nominated 20, with 19 confirmed. Making these numbers more striking is the fact that President Bush nominated his eleven judges on May 9th and had nominated nearly all of them by early August. In contrast, President Clinton made only one nomination before August of his first year in office. If Daschle & Co. are to live up to the modest standard of historical precedent, they better get their act together and start confirming nominees with all deliberate speed.