Senate Republicans held press conferences on November 8, 2001, to push a strategy leaked earlier in the week to demand fast-track approval of Bush administration judicial nominees, and to argue that such action is purportedly crucial to the war on terrorism. If the press conference follows the script reported earlier in the week, senators will claim, with White House approval, that not rushing approval of President Bush’s judicial nominees would somehow prevent law enforcement officials from getting wiretaps and search warrants essential to identifying terrorists.
People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas said that such a plan, if true, was “dishonest and disgraceful.”
Neas said search warrants and wiretaps go before magistrates or federal district court judges, and noted that the administration has submitted nominees for less than one-third of the current district court vacancies. As of November 7, there were 70 district court vacancies and the administration had submitted only 23 nominations for those spots. Five district court vacancies in New York and New Jersey are included among the 47 with no nominees. “If there’s a problem with getting district court judges in place to assist law enforcement officials, that problem is not in the Senate,” said Neas.
“Senate Republican leaders should be ashamed to distort the truth and misuse the national commitment to fighting terrorism in this blatant fashion,” said Neas. “The right wing’s number one goal for this administration is to pack the federal judiciary with far right ideologues. They are now trying to use the war on terrorism to promote that agenda.”
Neas said some senators have already said that supporting the war on terrorism requires a rubber stamp approach to Bush administration judicial nominees, and have claimed that Senate Democrats have unfairly delayed consideration of his nominees. Both claims are false, Neas said.
A recent PFAW Foundation report debunked GOP complaints about the current confirmation process; indeed, confirmations have outpaced the first year of the first Bush administration in 1989 and by the end of the year will likely be comparable to 1993, the first year of the Clinton administration. In fact, as of yesterday, the Senate had confirmed 16 of President Bush’s judicial nominees, more than the 15 confirmed in the entire first year of the first Bush administration. With respect to the district courts, President Bush has nominated 35 judges, and 12 of those have already been confirmed. Of the 23 remaining nominees, nine have already had confirmation hearings. This is in spite of the fact that 13 of these nominations were not even made until September or later.
Neas noted that the Bush administration’s apparent priority for judicial nominees has been to the federal appeals courts. The same far-right senators who led an unprecedented blockade against Clinton’s appeals court nominees – stopping nearly half of Clinton’s appeals court nominees between 1995 and 2000 – are now calling for immediate action on Bush nominees while complaining that Bush’s nominees have received unfair treatment.
PFAWF’s recent report noted that by the end of this administration, every one of the 13 circuit courts of appeal could be dominated by Republican nominees. If those nominees are predominantly right-wing ideologues, the consequences for Americans’ constitutional rights and civil liberties could be disastrous and long lasting.
Today Neas reiterated his call for President Bush to engage in genuine bipartisan consultation in an unprecedented solution to this unprecedented situation with the courts. He also said, “The Senate must resist the politics of intimidation, carry out its constitutional obligation to carefully consider the nominations that come before it, and reject candidates whose record does not reflect a commitment to constitutional rights.”