Specter's shadow dims Republican efforts in Senate

November 10, 2005|By THOMAS SOWELL

The recent announcement by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter that confirmation hearings on Judge Samuel Alito Jr. have been postponed until January was only the latest in a series of painful examples of what happens when Senate Republicans wimp out.

The Pennsylvania Republican did not wimp out. The Senate Republican "leadership" wimped out when they made him chairman of the Judiciary Committee after he had fired a shot across the bow of his own president, right after the election, publicly warning President Bush not to nominate anyone to the Supreme Court who would stir up controversy in the Senate.

That was the time to replace Senator Specter with a chairman who would support, or at least not sabotage, the president's attempt to put the kind of people on the courts that he had pledged to appoint during the election campaign. Instead, the Senate "leadership" accepted Senator Specter's assurances that he would cooperate.

Well, now he is cooperating - with the Democrats on his committee.

The delay in Judge Alito's confirmation hearings gives the Senate Democrats and all the liberal-left interest groups time to orchestrate a fear-and-smear campaign and raise the money to advertise those fears and smears, both directly and by organized protests that will get much free publicity in the media.

Also, liberal senators have every incentive to drag out the confirmation process, regardless of how the final vote turns out, because the longer they stall the longer Justice Sandra Day O'Connor remains on the Supreme Court. She is their kind of judge, one who makes policy instead of applying the law.

There was a time when the nomination of someone with Judge Alito's high qualifications to be on the Supreme Court would be confirmed by the Senate with little discussion and the confirmation reported with little comment in the media. But that was in earlier times, when common decency could be taken for granted.

Today, we can look for a Roman circus, complete with Christians being thrown to the lions. Worse, the idea will be reinforced that a judge's "views" on issues of the day are important and need to be questioned at interminable length.

Actually, the only view that really matters is a judge's view of the role of a judge. If a judge sees his role as applying laws passed by other people, then his own personal views on issues are irrelevant.

Demands for "more information" have also become part of this Roman circus, even when the senators themselves know that the information they are asking for cannot be released.

If a senator thinks the information available on any nominee is inadequate, then all that senator has to do is vote not to confirm. The power to vote yes or no does not include obstructing other senators from voting or dragging out the confirmation hearings into a media spectacle and a public humiliation.

Justice Clarence Thomas said it best during his confirmation hearings: "Confirm me if you want, don't confirm me if you are so led, but let this process end."

It needs to end for everybody - not just for this nominee or the next nominee but for the good of the country, so that the best-qualified people are willing to go through the nomination process, without fear that the reputation of a lifetime will be dragged through the mud.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, has aptly said that the coming battle over the nomination of Judge Alito will be "Armageddon."

People who have for years not only voted for the Republicans, but donated their time and money to the Republican party, who have volunteered to stuff envelopes, man the phones and walk the precincts to get out the vote on cold election nights, deserve something better than senators who wimp out at crunch time.

If the fate of the legal system in this country is not enough incentive for Senate Republicans to show some backbone, maybe concern for their own re-election will be.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His column appears Thursdays in The Sun. He can be e-mailed at www.tsowell.com.

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