This is going to ramble a bit, so bear with me.
There’s quite a bit of blogosphere and MSM turmoil today over the Senate judicial fillibuster controversy. The latest rumblings are thanks to (a) reports that the Republican Senate leadership is getting ready to move on a procedural vote to end fillibusters of judicial nominees, and (b) Republican Senate leader Bill Frist’s decision to associate himself with a televised push by the Family Research Council next week to drum up support for some of the stalled Bush nominees.
I’ve never been particularly impressed with Frist. Seems like a decent fellow, but I don’t get the hoopla. For one thing, he’s not a particularly good politician. He was picked out to replace Trent Lott (whom I have even less use for) because he was seen as a straight-arrow, and that’s all well and good, but I thought he was too inexperienced for the job at the time, and he hasn’t done much since then to convince me otherwise, or that he has the leadership qualities for a really critical position like Majority Leader. I really don’t get the Frist-for-President stuff, for those reasons and others. I don’t think he’d be a competitive candidate, even in the primaries.
And I think he’s making a mistake by associating himself so closely with the Dobson effort. There’s nothing wrong with Christian conservatives organizing to support nominees they approve of, any more than anything being wrong with Ralph Neas or the ACLU organizing lefties to oppose them (I wish some on the left and liberterian side of the blogosphere could bring themselves to admit that), but it’s also just as inappropriate for Frist to be as in bed with the Dobson group as it is for Neas to be calling the dance steps for the Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee.
That said, I think an awful lot of blogosphere commentators are letting their knee-jerk reactions to the “Christian Right” cloud their judgment, not so much regarding the Dobson stuff, as to the entirety of the fillibuster issue. A minority of a minority in the US Senate has installed what amounts to a religious test for court nominees, and folks, that’s dangerous no matter whether it’s being imposed in favor of or in opposition to religion and the religious.
Take Bill Pryor, for example. Pryor was the Attorney General of Alabama before being nominated by Bush, and he’d worked his way up through the prosecutors’ ranks to get there (I have a little second-hand knowledge of the guy thanks to a close friend who used to work for him). Pryor was denied a Senate vote by the likes of Dick Durban, Barbara Boxer and Chuckie Schumer very explicitly because Pryor is a devout Catholic, and thus (at least according to the fillibusterers) can’t be trusted on abortion.
Sorry, folks, but that’s a religious test, and a patently unconstitutional one. It’s no different than if Lott were to stand up and say, “I’m going to block the nomination of this Democratic judge because she’s a gol-darned atheist.” That would be entirely inappropriate, and so is the Boxer-Schumer rejection of Pryor for being a committed Catholic. Either one (and I don’t use this phrase lightly) leans hard towards being flatly un-American.
Besides which, Pryor’s record does not indicate anything like “extreme” actions based on his religion. I frankly wouldn’t have that much of a problem with blocking the nomination if we were talking about somebody as irresponsible and self-serving as, say, Roy Moore, but Pryor isn’t even close to being a Roy Moore.
Want a few more examples? Janice Rogers Brown (another naitive Alabamian, oddly enough) and Manuel Estrada (who dropped out of the process in disgust) were blocked on purely racial terms. We know now from leaked Democratic strategy memos that their nominations were seen as untenable purely because the Dems thought either of them would be hard to vote against as possible future Supreme Court nominees.
That’s got nothing to do with either of their records, and it’s got no legitimate place in the process of “advise and consent.” Not liking a nominee’s future prospects is not a defensible reason for opposing that nominee. You want to win that fight, win it in the elections for the guy (or gal) who does the nominating, not after the fact.
The blatantly racial blockings of Brown and Estrada ought to be raising a lot more hackles on the principled left and center than they are. And I’m sorry–these nominees are no more “extreme” on their side of the fence than leftie heartthrob Ruth Bader Ginsberg is on hers (quite a bit less so, in my admittedly biased opinion). A little more intellectual honesty on matters like that would be appreciated, but frankly, it’s not something I expect.