Coming Soon to NY and DC: Revival of GOP’s ‘Obstructionism’ Melodrama

Edit Memo by Ralph G. Neas, President, People For the American Way

At the Republican convention this month and on the Senate floor in September, GOP officials are expected to turn up the volume on their frequently repeated charge that President Bush’s judicial nominees are being unfairly held up by Senate Democrats’ “obstructionism.” Repeating this demonstrably false charge is a cynical campaign tactic for the Bush reelection team as well as the Republican Party, and it is part of an ongoing effort by the administration and its allies to distort the nominations process and pack the federal courts with ideologically extreme nominees. This memorandum reviews the facts about the Senate’s record regarding Bush’s judicial nominees as well as the constitutional and legal framework and the political backdrop against which the Republicans’ charges of “obstructionism” must be evaluated. A thorough analysis reveals the charges to be blatantly deceptive election-year politicking.

Not only is the federal judicial vacancy rate at its lowest in two decades, but the Senate has also confirmed the vast majority of the President’s judicial nominees. The relatively few nominees who remain have not been confirmed for very good reason: they have failed to demonstrate that they are fit for powerful, lifetime appointments to the federal judiciary.

Instead of seeking to nominate well-qualified, mainstream candidates who satisfy the important criteria for confirmation to the federal judiciary, the President time and again has nominated individuals with extreme, right-wing legal views who pose a threat to the rights and freedoms that Americans hold dear. It is the President’s own fault, not Democratic “obstructionism,” when he nominates someone (William Pryor) whose legal views and record are so disturbing that a leading newspaper is prompted to call the nominee a “[r]ight-wing zealot [who] is unfit to judge.”1 It is not “obstructionism” for Democratic Senators to refuse to confirm a nominee (Janice Rogers Brown) so ideologically extreme that she has accused senior citizens on Social Security of “cannibaliz[ing]” their grandchildren’s future, or another nominee (William Myers) who is so hostile to environmental protection that he has compared the government’s role in protecting public lands to King George’s “tyrannical” rule over American colonies. And it is not “obstructionism” when Republicans run roughshod over Senate rules and traditions to push the President’s nominees and Senate Democrats must resort to the only means left to them, the filibuster –- a legitimate, legislative tool -- in an effort to keep a few of the worst nominees from assuming lifetime positions as federal appellate judges. A President who continues to send such nominees to the Senate is simply in no position to complain when some of them are not confirmed.

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