- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

When it comes to judicial nominations, Republican senators are finding themselves defending hills they sought to storm just a few years ago.

Republicans sometimes ignored home-state senators’ objections to nominees and threatened to change the rules to end filibusters on nominations when they held the majority and the presidency — but today, those same Republicans argue home-state consultation is sacrosanct and are promising their own filibusters if Democrats don’t respect them.

Republicans say they aren’t making threats, but either way, their unified stand, expressed in a letter earlier this month, appears to be working: Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said he expects to accommodate Republicans’ home-state prerogatives, up to a point, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appears to have ruled out the “nuclear option” of ending filibusters.

“I can’t imagine Senator Reid would ever resort to the illegitimate tactic called the ‘nuclear option’ that the GOP turned to four years ago,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Mr. Reid, pointing to a floor speech Mr. Reid gave as Democrats were about to assume control in December 2006. In that speech, he called Republicans’ effort to change the rules “a raw abuse of power, fueled by a misreading of history.”

As Mr. Reid’s words suggest, judicial nominations are the cause of a continual bare-knuckles political fight on Capitol Hill, and senators jealously guard their constitutional prerogative to confirm federal judges.

However, the process has deteriorated under the past two presidents, producing flip-flops on both sides.

In the current go-around, the chief change has come on the part of Republicans and the policy of “blue slips” — the cards senators traditionally return to show support or opposition to a judicial nominee from their home state.

Under the leadership of then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Republicans in 2003 and 2004 announced that tradition was no longer binding. They were trying to move several nominees from Michigan over the objection of both of Michigan’s Democratic senators.

Republicans even dug up a memo from the late Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who had written a history of five nominees who either had been given a hearing or had been confirmed despite opposition from home-state senators.

Still, Democrats rallied around the their Michigan senators’ objections and fought Mr. Hatch’s move, ending with filibusters against some of those Michigan nominees.

That’s why when Mr. Leahy told Congressional Quarterly earlier this year that he wasn’t sure how he would handle blue slips, Republicans pounced.

They fired off a letter in early March, signed “All Republican senators,” that laid out Republicans’ expectations and threats. The letter was addressed to President Obama and Mr. Leahy.

“Regretfully, if we are not consulted on, and approve of, a nominee from our states, the Republican Conference will be unable to support moving forward on that nominee,” the Republicans said in their letter.

Getting all 41 Republicans on board — just enough to sustain a filibuster — was a major accomplishment.

It also required that some senators go back on their previous positions, but Republicans said it’s more important that Democrats, not Republicans, be consistent.

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