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Monday, May 23, 2005

The American way — this time for real

So the GOP and Dem moderates have brokered a deal that the whole Senate's going to go along with — until it breaks down, which, after the votes on the first three judicial nominees, may well happen. Members of the Senate who want to defeat a Bush nominee to the Supreme Court will have the option to opt out of the deal by declaring that nominee so "extraordinary" (as in extraordinarily bad) as to be deserving of filibuster. Unless, of course, Mr. Bush chooses to fill the first Supreme Court vacancy with the newly sworn-in nominee to the D.C. Court of Appeals, namely Janice Rogers Brown. The president need only say how impressed he is with her, and of course Barbara Boxer and the Nay Sayers Caucus will not be able, credibly, to say nay in her direction, given that Brown was just vetted for the appellate seat. That would be a brilliant move. But that's not what's foremost on my mind tonight. What's got my attention is that Ralph Neas, head of the powerful People for the American Way, has announced his group's intention to go all out to defeat Brown, Owens, and Pryor. How are they going to try to do that? The old-fashioned way. They are going to try to get more senators to vote against those three nominees than senators who vote for them. When I worked as a Senate staffer (for Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio) that's how Senate business was routinely conducted. "Up or down vote" wasn't a conservative rallying cry — it was how the Senate functioned. Yes, filibusters were used on occasion, when I was there. In fact, Metzenbaum led a few rousing ones during his memorable tenure. And I think the filbuster has its place — but not as a blanket means of preventing a duly-elected president from nominating judges. ("Duly-elected" is a civics class flourish, hope you like it.) Did the GOP in fact keep 60 Clinton judges from even getting committee votes? I seem to remember that they did. What I also recall is that Clinton didn't make it much of an issue. He didn't spend much political capital to enlist his constituency in his behalf. But then, Mr. Clinton wasn't a guy who liked to create currents, at least around issues. Better to split the differences in advance, rather than have a royal fight. Better to let that political capital accrue. Clinton may have been the most risk-averse president in U.S. history. (Ask Lani Guinier.) To the contrary, the GOP has gone all-out in behalf of Bush's judges. I admire them for doing so, separate from the merits of each judicial nominee. They know what they want and they fight for it. If the Democrats had felt really strongly about their bottled up 60 judicial nomineeds, they, too had the right to make a fight. They chose at the time not to go beyond merely formal protests. Take your cookies when they're passed. Maybe next time they've got a president in the White House, they'll be willing to fight harder. For now, I've grown weary of hearing Barbara Boxer and Pat Leahy (among others) talk about how "unfair" it is, in retrospect, that they didn't fight they way the GOP is fighting now. How ungenerous it is that the Republicans want all their nominees confirmed. Is it unreasonable for any president to want his nominees to be approved? To want this enough to fight hard? Of course not. Welcome to Senate lobbying, Mr Neas. You were not able to prevent a vote from taking place, but "A" for effort. Now, do your best to defeat whom you consider the evil three. Do this by urging undecided senators to vote against them. Since you're into the American Way, why not give it a try. You might find you like it. And then, a lot more people will get the whole thing with your group's name. See the point?