- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2001

The kings of France had a convenient method of dealing with their enemies or rewarding their friends, a royal note called a lettre de cachet. With the stroke of a pen, the king could order anyone, from nobleman to fishmonger, tossed into the local hoosegow without the benefit of a trial or often even a charge. On occasion, allies of the king were even given pre-signed "fill-in-the-blank" letters to let them secretly do away with their enemies.
To those of us who live in a society governed by the rule of law, this assault on due process seems like a brutal anachronism, but the past few weeks have exposed a not-so-pretty practice in Washington that conjures up memories of royal pique. Its a cozy senatorial courtesy known as "blue slips" a tradition allowing senators from the home state of a nominee to the federal bench to sink a nomination by returning an "opposing" blue form to the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
The nomination dies a slow death without recourse to the persons professional reputation or judicial experience while denying the "accused" his or her day in court to respond to the charges. Today, blue slips and other delaying tactics have become the weapons of choice in what is fast becoming an ideological guerrilla war in the divided Senate.
The origins of this increasingly personal and partisan battle can be traced directly to the Democrats successful attempt to block Ronald Reagans conservative choice for the U.S. Supreme Court, Robert Bork. Painting Judge Bork, a highly respected jurist, as an extremist, Democratic senators conducted one of the most shameful confirmation episodes in our history; then outdid themselves a few years later with their treatment of Judge Clarence Thomas.
What was good for the goose was good for the gander, and Republicans held up some Clinton appointments, too; but its worth noting that his two Supreme Court nominees, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer sailed through their confirmations.
There were plenty of Republicans with heartburn over Mr. Clintons choice of two well-known liberal judges but who managed to refrain from making ideology a litmus test for confirmation. Now, Democrats are once again facing a Republican presidents judicial choices, and they appear to have embarked on a scorched earth policy "Read our lips. No new conservative judges." Who did they think a conservative president was going to appoint Mario Cuomo?
Leading Senate Democrats have made it clear that they intend to control the confirmation process; or, Constitution be damned, there will be no confirmations. They will define the criteria for judicial appointments or the Democrats will decline to attend committee hearings.
First, national Democrats are thwarting the nominating process to pay off special interest groups whose support is crucial to the Democratic coalition. John Ashcroft is a case in point. His conservative views were anathema to the African American community, Hollywood, the pro-choice lobby, environmentalists, feminists, and the gay and lesbian community, the Democratic Partys biggest backers. For many Senate Democrats, opposition to Mr. Ashcroft was nothing more than payback for the 2000 election and a down payment on 2004. The same holds true for the opposition to Rep. Chris Coxs stalled nomination, Ted Olsons appointment as solicitor general and several others.
But theres more to it than just crass political payoffs. Under the tutelage of William Jefferson Clinton, the Democrats learned the political efficacy of portraying conservatives of all stripes as dangerous extremists. Just ask Bob Bork or Bob Dole, Ken Starr or Newt Gingrich whether the politics of personal destruction works. The Democratic Party has been very successful at putting a media filter on the Republican Party. People dont see us as we are, but as we are portrayed as child-hating, Social-Security destroying, anti-environment, pro-big business elitists. According to the Democrats, were not just overeager ideologues; were downright evil.
But so far, President Bush has managed to elude their traps. He not only won the presidency, but his brand of compassionate conservatism has won him and the Republican Congress unprecedented support from the American people on key issues where Democrats have long held a huge advantage. The Winston Poll found recently that Republicans have reached parity on the crucial issue of education while the Democrats huge lead on Social Security and health care has slipped to only a five-point advantage.
As the poll numbers have moved dramatically, Democrats have moved to a new strategy: Use the Senates constitutional role of "advice and consent" to put a new filter on Mr. Bush. By painting his nominees as nothing more than newer model Borks, they hope to finally pin Mr. Bush with the extremist tag that so far has failed to stick.
If this becomes a battle of ideologies on the evening news, however, it just might; so Mr. Bush should call their bluff and call on the Senate to take the nominating process out of the back rooms and into the sunshine of public scrutiny. Ask the Senate to abandon the blue slip system as the unfair, outdated political tool it has become. And demand that in the future, those senators who object to a nomination make their case in public and on paper to the president.
Its time the Senate, Republicans and Democrats, take the high road and reform a system that has become nothing more than a senatorial lettre de cachet for senators with an axe to grind or a special interest group to keep happy.

Richard Bond is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

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