In coming weeks, Republicans on Capitol Hill plan for the first major push on judges since Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. were confirmed to the Supreme Court.
In the nearly six months since Justice Alito was confirmed, only 14 federal judges have been seated. That’s the slowest six-month period since early 2004, according to documents kept by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy.
The plans for renewed emphasis on judges comes after a consortium of conservative leaders expressed deep displeasure with both the White House and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill in recent months over the slowed pace of confirmations.
“We write to remind you of your duty, but also because we are concerned that if the Majority that assured the confirmation votes of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito lose just one seat in the next election, the future of the Supreme Court and the federal appellate bench will again be imperiled by the use of filibusters,” the conservatives wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders in the body.
In particular, said the conservatives led by former Frist aide Manuel Miranda, Republicans’ best hopes for keeping their majority in the Senate could rest on the issue of judges.
“We write because we fear that the Majority is ignoring the impact of the nominations debate on its ability to gain the support of those small margins of voters that the Majority needs to secure unobstructed confirmations,” they wrote.
The 83 signers of the letter also include such conservative icons as Paul Weyrich, Alan Keyes, Richard Viguerie, Abigail Thernstrom, David A. Keene, L. Brent Bozell III and Bill Donohue.
Efforts to draw attention to the federal bench got a boost last week with the Supreme Court decision that the administration had overstepped its constitutional boundaries by using military tribunals — rather than civilian courts — to try enemy combatants held at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Conservatives think that most American voters support Mr. Bush’s efforts to fight the war on terror and that the high court’s ruling will underscore yet again how out of touch the court is. Also, the decision caused something of a conundrum among liberal advocacy groups, who hailed the ruling after years of dire warnings about the consequences of allowing Mr. Bush to put people on the Supreme Court like Justices Roberts and Alito.
On the day of the ruling, People for the American Way issued a statement calling it a “major defeat for the Bush administration” and a “victory for the rule of law.”
Later that same day, the group issued a second press release about the court’s term in general. Instead of listing all of what it sees as disastrous rulings by the Bush court that it had been predicting for so long, the group instead warned that “next year’s cases could signal acceleration of the ultraconservative trend.”
Just last week, Mr. Bush sent 10 judicial nominations to the Senate, including names for four seats on U.S. courts of appeals.
The nominations were announced shortly after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, told The Washington Times that he couldn’t understand what was taking Mr. Bush so long to offer new nominations.
“Not only am I expecting it, I’ve been expecting it for about six weeks,” he said.
“There is an issue here as to how long we’re going to be able to confirm judges,” Mr. Specter said. “You know the Democrats are salivating to take over the Senate, and if they think they can take over the Senate, it would be a very different confirmation process if [Vermont Sen. Patrick J.] Leahy is the chairman.”