Wednesday, November 21, 2001

As the nation gathers itself into family and community circles to give thanks for a bounty of freedom and plenty, it behooves us all to remember the helpless among us, those who languish outside the corridors of power, their voices unheard. We refer today to the 46 men and women President Bush has tapped for the federal bench whose nominations effectively remain hostage to a pernicious strain of politicking. Who would have imagined, back in the spring, that the honor of being nominated could have brought American citizens so low? But low they have been brought, consigned to a limbo of neglect by none other than Mr. Partisan Politics Himself, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy.

Day after day, week after week, month after month, these nominees have had to hang in a state of unjustifiable bafflement: Will Chairman Patrick Leahy ever allow their nominations to be voted out of committee? Indeed, will the voices of the 36 nominees who have yet to come before the committee even be heard?

It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, given the records of the last three administrations, it never has been. By the end of their first years in office, Ronald Reagan, George Bush (the father) and Bill Clinton saw, respectively, 100 percent, 89 percent and 88 percent of their federal judicial nominees win Senate confirmation. As the end of George W. Bush’s first year approaches, only 28 percent of his nominees have been confirmed. Considering that 101, or 11.8 percent, of the seats on the federal bench are now empty with 20 of those vacancies considered “judicial emergencies” this meager confirmation rate is a crisis in the making.

As one senator facing a considerably smaller vacancy rate put it in 1998, “Any week in which the Senate does not confirm three judges is a week in which the Senate is failing to address the vacancy crisis.” These are wise words, indeed. Mr. Leahy in particular should take note of them. In fact, they came from Mr. Leahy himself.

Below is a list of Mr. Bush’s circuit and district court nominees. We invite all Americans to take this opportunity to include these fellow citizens in their thoughts to wish them a speedy release from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Americans Held Hostage: (since May) Terrence W. Boyle; Deborah L. Cook; Miguel A. Estrada; Jeffrey R. Howard; Michael W. McConnell; Terrence O’Brien; Priscilla Richman Owen; Charles W. Pickering Sr; John G. Roberts Jr.; Dennis W. Shedd; Lavenski R. Smith; Jeffrey S. Sutton; Timothy M. Tymkovich; (since June) John Bates; Paul G. Cassell; Richard R. Clifton; Harris Hartz; Carolyn Kuhl; (since July) Michael Malloy; (since August) David L. Bunning; David C. Burie; Kurt D. Englehardt; Callie Granade; James E. Gritzner; Joe L. Heaton; William P. Johnson; Terrence O’Brien; Danny C. Reeves; Virginia Smith; (since September) Robert E. Blackburn; Robert Randall Crane; Marcia S. Krieger; Clay D. Land; James C. Mahan Sr.; Julie Robinson; David Brooks Smith; (since October) Julia Smith Gibbons; Philip R. Martinez; C. Ashley Royal; William H. Steele; Jay C. Zainey; (new hostages) Ralph R. Beistline; Cindy K. Jorgenson; David McKeague; Susan Bieke Neilson; Henry A. Saad.

You might say their freedom lies in Mr. Leahy’s hands a fact that is food for thought on this Thanksgiving eve.

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