If you were a senator, whose views would be more important to you: liberal special-interest groups, or registered voters?
The liberal groups demand that Democrats filibuster (prevent the Senate from voting on) some of President Bush’s best-qualified nominees to the federal appeals courts. But a recent Ayres McHenry nationwide survey reveals that 82 percent of registered voters believe well-qualified nominees deserve a Senate vote. That includes 85 percent of Republicans, 81 percent of Democrats, and 81 percent of Independents.
Some Senators apparently believe voters won’t see through partisan obstructionism. But they can’t possibly believe the other myths about the filibuster.
Myth No. 1:Filibuster of judges is a sacred tradition.
Fact: The filibuster is nowhere in the Constitution. It is not among the “checks and balances” our Founding Fathers created. It did not even exist until the 1830s, and the “tradition” involves legislation, not judicial appointments. The filibuster was used to defend slavery and oppose the Civil Rights Act — hardly noble purposes. The current obstruction of judges is no “traditional” filibuster: it is the first time in more than 200 years that either party has filibustered to keep judges with majority support off the federal bench.
Myth No. 2: Mr. Bush’s nominees are being treated no differently than other presidents’ nominees.
Fact: In the last Congress, 10 of the president’s 34 appellate nominees were filibustered — the lowest confirmation rate since FDR. Democrats mask their sabotage of these nominees by citing the confirmation rate of judges to federal courts overall — an irrelevant statistic, because the federal courts of appeal make final rulings on most issues of constitutional law. Liberals also argue that Abe Fortas was not confirmed as Chief Justice in 1968. But Mr. Fortas was opposed by a Senate majority (both Republicans and Democrats), and President Johnson withdrew the nomination. Today, a Senate majority supports the nominees, and the president is not withdrawing them.
Myth No. 3: The Senate has a “co-equal” role with the president in judicial nominations.
Fact: The Constitution expressly gives the president — and only the president — the power to nominate federal judges. All the Senate can do is say “yes” or “no” to the president’s choices. That is the “check” in the “checks-and-balances” system, to make sure no unqualified nominee becomes a federal judge. It does not give Senators — and a minority of Senators at that — the power to insist on judges who suit their own ideology.
Myth No. 4: The current filibuster is about “free speech.”
Fact: Historically, the filibuster has given senators in the minority a chance to speak on the Senate floor before the majority rushes to pass a bill. But the current filibuster is not about the right to speak out. It is about blocking judges. These nominees have been pending for months — some for years. There has been, and remains, ample time to speak about them. The majority welcomes free speech and free debate — followed by a free vote.
Myth No. 5: The filibuster protects “the right of the minority” to veto nominees.
Fact: The Constitution requires two-thirds vote for certain things. Appointing judges is not one of them. So the basic principle of democracy applies: The majority decides. The filibuster of judicial nominees turns majority rule on its head, because 41of 100 senators can keep a judge off the bench without ever even voting.
A liberal minority needs federal judges to advance their agenda — allowing child pornography as free speech, mandating same-sex marriage, removing “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, banning school prayer and preventing the death penalty for murderers and terrorists — because they can’t win these issues at the ballot box. Mr. Bush promised to nominate judges who will apply the law as written and stay out of politics. The recent Ayres survey shows 67 percent of voters agree that “we should take politics out of the courts and out of the confirmation process.” A full 61 percent of Democrats agree with this statement, as well as 73 percent of Independents and 69 percent of Republicans.
The American people want senators to do the job our tax dollars pay them to do. Senators who fail to do their jobs — either by failing to show up for their committee meetings, by voting against restoring the Senate tradition of up-or-down votes for judges, or by halting the work of the federal government — might find themselves out of work when they really need the consent of the governed: at their next election.
Wendy E. Long is counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network, a former Clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas and former press secretary to former Sens. Gordon Humphrey and Bill Armstrong.