A press conference today featuring Republican members of Congress supporting the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit continued the ugly and groundless attacks on Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. An announcement of the press conference had denounced the “obstructionist tactics of left-wing extremist groups and the Democrat Senators who carry out their agenda,” a recurring theme in right-wing publications and activist circles. People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas denounced such tactics as “deceptive and irresponsible.”
“The U.S. Senate has confirmed more than 40 of President Bush’s judicial nominees,” said Ralph G. Neas, President of People For the American Way. “Senators are approving judges at a faster pace than the Republican Senate did during President Clinton’s tenure. It is demonstrably false to suggest otherwise. And it is reprehensible to accuse Senator Leahy of acting in bad faith based on Mr. Estrada’s ethnicity.”
Neas said that People For the American Way has not taken a position on the Estrada nomination beyond encouraging senators to take seriously their constitutional responsibility to carefully review his record, as they should with all judicial nominees, especially those to the important appellate courts.
Even though no battle has been joined on this nomination, said Neas, Sens. Orrin Hatch and Jon Kyl have previously accused Leahy and other Democratic senators of “racial profiling” because Estrada’s nomination has not yet been heard by the Judiciary Committee. Other right-wing activists have also suggested that Estrada is being delayed because he is Hispanic. More broadly, Sens. Leahy and Daschle have been the targets of attack campaigns by right-wing political groups for allegedly refusing to act on President Bush’s judicial nominees.
Neas noted that three other Hispanic judicial nominees who were nominated by President Bush last year have been confirmed by the Senate; another was nominated in late January 2002. He also noted that when Republicans controlled the Senate, they delayed the nomination of Judge Richard Paez for four years before it was put to a vote. Other highly qualified Hispanic nominees, including two to the Fifth Circuit, were also blocked.
“Since Senator Leahy took control of the Senate Judiciary Committee less than 10 months ago, the Committee has approved and the Senate confirmed more judges than in the first year of the previous Bush or Clinton presidencies. In less than one year, the Senate has confirmed more judges than were confirmed in 4 of the last 5 years of Clinton’s presidency,” said Neas. “That is a remarkable record given the extraordinary demands on the committee in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.”
“President Bush has attempted to stake out a moral high ground by suggesting that senators of both parties have engaged in illegitimate delays against the other’s nominees and now is the time to rise above the past,” said Neas. “But this ‘moral equivalency,’ while no doubt good politics, is fundamentally inaccurate.”
Neas noted that many of the senators and political organizations pushing for fast action on Bush nominees were responsible for creating and sustaining the unprecedented ideological blockade that blocked 35 percent of Clinton administration appeals court nominees from 1995-2000, when Republicans controlled the Senate.
As a result of this successful blockade, the nation faces an unprecedented situation: by the end of this presidential term, all 13 federal appeals courts could be controlled by Republican appointees. The Supreme Court reviews less than one percent of the tens of thousands of cases decided by the appeals courts, which are frequently the final word for the millions of Americans within each circuit’s jurisdiction. Pundits now call on the Senate to reward GOP obstructionism by allowing the Bush administration to pack the appellate courts with right-wing ideologues.
The future of the federal judiciary is a struggle of monumental importance. The sustained campaign by the Radical Right to overturn the constitutional framework of the past 65 years and roll back decades of legal and civil rights achievements is nearer to completion than ever before. It is the success of the right-wing’s campaign for control of the judiciary, and the far-reaching consequences for Americans’ rights and freedoms, that has compelled action by broad coalitions of organizations concerned with civil and constitutional rights, women’s rights, environmental protections, and much more.
With all that is at stake, said Neas, it is imperative that we have a broad national debate about the Constitution and the judiciary. President Bush has begun to take his campaign for “strict constructionist” judges on the campaign trail on behalf of several Senate candidates.
“We welcome an election-year discussion of the judiciary,” said Neas. “We should have had a more comprehensive debate in 2000. Let’s talk with the American people about what President Bush means by ‘strict constructionist’ judges. Because it’s not just about interpreting the law, it’s about interpreting the Constitution. The right-wing ideologues are prepared to take us back even further than Roe v. Wade, further than the great states’ rights – civil rights struggles of the 1960s. They’re eager to take us back to before the New Deal. Let’s talk about what that would mean for the rights, freedoms, and government protections Americans depend on in their daily lives.”
Neas noted that in 1986, when President Reagan tried to make control of the judiciary an issue in a number of Senate campaigns, the results were disastrous for the GOP, which lost eight Senate seats.