With Republicans set on Monday to block Robert Wilkins’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, both parties’ positions appear hopelessly intractable.
The only thing that may be able to preserve the GOP’s ability to filibuster judicial nominees is another extended battle over the Senate rules that forces a truce between the caucuses of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Here’s a statistic I’ve read: 86.8 percent of President Bush’s judicial nominees were confirmed. Some of his nominees — Harriet Miers is a notable example — were blocked by his own party, not just Democrats. That didn’t stop political partisans — Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, for one, and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, for another — from stoking the perpetual butthurt and persecution complex of gullible Evangelical Christians in framing a battle over judicial nominees as a “Filibuster Against People Of Faith.”
Remember that? Remember:
Frist is trying to win support for a ban on the use of the filibuster, a technique to delay Senate business, to block votes on judicial nominees. He has agreed to give a videotaped speech Sunday for Justice Sunday: Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith.
The program, which also features prominent religious leaders such as James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, is sponsored by the socially conservative Family Research Council. Churches, groups and individuals can sign up at http://www.frc.org to watch by satellite or on the Internet.
A brochure for the program, originating at a church in Louisville, says the filibuster “was once abused to protect racial bias, and now it is being used against people of faith.” Perkins says “activist courts” are conspiring “to rob us of our Christian heritage” and urges “values voters” to support Frist.
That was April 2005. Two other Justice Sundays followed: one in August 2005 at Nashville’s Two Rivers Baptist Church, called “God Save the United States and this Honorable Court,” which was timed to coincide with John Roberts’ confirmation hearings. The third event was held at a Baptist church in Philadelphia on the eve of Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings. This one was labeled “Proclaim Liberty Throughtout The Land.”
As with all things right-wing, these events (especially the first one) were the newest shiny-sparkly thing to grab the media’s attention, and there were front page stories and endless hours of cable news programs devoted to them. The rallying cry, as you will recall, was “the president’s nominees deserve an up or down vote.” We heard that one ad nauseum.
Fast forward to the next administration, in which the president happens to be a Democrat, and suddenly the shoe is on the other foot. Suddenly Obama is “packing the courts.” Fewer than half of President Obama’s judicial nominees have been confirmed. And yet, there have been no rallies about the president’s nominees deserving an up or down vote, no church-based (or union hall-based) events about filibustering the working class, minorities and women. There has been no “Occupy The Courts” movement or marches on Washington or bully tactics to force the Senate opposition into giving us our way.
Republican presidents have it so easy. Once they’re in office there’s an entire network of apparatchiks across every facet of American society ready to support that president’s agenda. Democratic presidents have no such support network. Liberal apparatchiks are too busy whining about getting thrown under the bus on x, y, or z issue to bother having the presidential back on things like judicial nominees. We know, intuitively, how important the courts are to our cause, yet we’ve done precious little when President Obama’s highly-qualified picks have been blocked by Republican obstruction.
When I look back and reflect on how much time and energy was devoted to discussing the Justice Sunday events eight years ago, I am simply amazed at the strategic skills of the Republican right. Think about it: the very same people claiming it was evil and un-American and an assault on judicial independence to filibuster a judicial nominee turned round and lobbied for that very thing when Sonia Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court. Amazing. And yet, no one, least of all the “liberal media,” laughed them out of the room.
No one has pointed out that the right’s event-based activism really lacks any philosophical integrity. It’s really just all about making sure their side wins. I don’t know why the media plays along with this whole charade. And I don’t know why the left doesn’t do a better job of coming together on these things.