- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Maybe Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, should have known better than to ask the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, "Do you want me to be your chairman or do you want me to be your puppet?" After they walked out on Mr. Hatch and the rest of their Republican colleagues last week, it had become obvious to everyone that the Democrats were willing to do whatever it takes to pull the strings on President Bushs judicial nominees, the first slate of which will arrive in the Senate today.

The Democrats´ grandstanding exit was no fit of political pique. Instead, they were flexing party muscle as part of an outrageous, if disciplined, strategy to gain extra-constitutional power over the judicial selection process. "We will insist that (one or) both (Democratic) senators … representing a state have the ability to sign off on that nominee — or it won´t go anywhere," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said, calling to mind that special brand of finesse most recently popularized by Tony Soprano. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has let it be known that all Bush nominees to the federal bench — and, apparently, to the Justice Department — will be blocked in committee unless Democrats get insta-veto power in the 32 states represented by at least one Democratic senator.

It´s not just that Democrats have launched a power grab on a willfully exaggerated misinterpretation of the "blue-slip" process, a procedure by which a senator may register reservations over a home-state judicial nominee, but not scuttle it unless the White House fails to consult with home-state senators. There is also a brazenness to their distortions that is more than a little disturbing.

"None of us are seeking a fight. We´ve been forced into this," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. This might take the cake for disingenuousness. Democrats insist that Republicans used scads of blue slips to nix numerous, if nameless, Clinton nominees. As Mr. Schumer so vividly put it, "I can´t count them on my hands and toes, there have been so many." But keep your wingtips on: Mr. Hatch claims not to know of any. Given that blue slips are privileged information, it´s important to consider that even with a Republican Senate for six years, Bill Clinton saw 377 of his judicial nominees confirmed, while Ronald Reagan, also with a Republican Senate for six years, saw only five more of his nominees confirmed. Plus, as Mr. Hatch has pointed out, Mr. Clinton could have actually exceeded Mr. Reagan´s record by three extra confirmations "had it not been for Democratic holds against Democratic judges."

But none of this has much to do with procedural niceties. It is about power — and ideology. For instance, California's Barbara Boxer has already vetoed Rep. Chris Cox for no other reason than that he´s conservative, so the Wall Street Journal reports. There is nothing frivolous about a power grab, and Republicans on the Hill and in the White House must protect our democratic institutions by thwarting it.


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