Coburn mum on Specter

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Oklahoma Senator-elect Tom Coburn is quoted in today's Whirled as saying he won't take a public position on whether Sen. Arlen Specter should be elected as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, even though Coburn's philosophy of government and the judicial branch is completely at odds with that of Specter. According to the Whirled (PDF here, jump page here):

"I am not going to get into that," Coburn said. "I don't want to stake out any territory right now publicly." ...

Coburn, who is scheduled to be in Washington over the next few days to attend orientation sessions for new senators, said he has not sat down and looked at the controversy surrounding Specter.

"I am the senator-elect, not the senator," he said.

Coburn, who continues to work out of his Muskogee medical office, said he has not received calls from conservatives on the controversy.

Well, we can fix that! He doesn't have a Senate office yet, but for now you can call his main campaign office in Muskogee at 918-684-4308. The fax number for the campaign office is 918-684-4309. His Muskogee medical office number appears to be 918-682-4318.

Here's what Coburn says on his website about judicial nominations:

Dr. Coburn will actively work to confirm federal judges who respect the Constitution and the original intent of the Founding Fathers. He will oppose activist judges who use the bench to advance political agendas whether liberal or conservative. Dr. Coburn will seek to impeach and limit the jurisdiction of activist judges who abuse their judicial power.

Democrat senators have damaged the confirmation process by their endless and baseless political attacks on well-qualified, well-seasoned Bush judicial nominees.

Dr. Coburn's previous congressional experience will assist him in endeavoring to stabilize the confirmation process and will allow qualified judges the opportunity to receive an up or down vote on the Senate floor.

Arlen Specter, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, will work to thwart everyone of those admirable goals. The Chairman has only one vote, but a lot of power as to when and how hearings on nominees are conducted. The Chairman controls the staff and the staff has a lot to say about how the issues are presented.

The same Whirled story quoted Sen. Jim Inhofe as saying that he's not happy about Specter as chairman, but he has no plans to oppose him. Inhofe suggested that if Specter breaks his promises he could be removed. That would almost certainly not happen. If a Senate majority, fresh from a triumphant election in which judicial restraint was an important issue, is so bound up in tradition and seniority that they are unwilling to insist on putting someone consistent with party philosophy in charge of an important committee, there is no way they will have the gumption to remove someone once he's already in office.

The controversy over Specter isn't just about abortion. It's about democracy. A bad decision by the Supreme Court 31 years ago removed that controversial subject from the realm of public deliberation. It's not just that Arlen Specter believes abortion should be legal -- it's that he believes that judges should be able to invalidate laws they disagree with, whether or not they have a sound constitutional basis for so doing. Andrew McCarthy got to the heart of the issue in a recent column for National Review Online:

The judiciary-committee controversy is not about abortion. It is about whether there is any meaningful limiting principle that compels judges, regardless of their predilections and the trendy pieties of any particular era, to stay their hands so that Americans are free to live as they choose including in 50 different ways if that is the judgment of the people in 50 different states.

There are, essentially, two competing visions of judicial philosophy. The first, the one that is regnant at this time (and to which it appears Senator Specter subscribes), is that the Constitution with its many pliable terms is as manipulable as necessary to place beyond democracy any issue that may be said to reflect a "value" the American people revere at a given time. The problem here is that this camouflages a brute power reality.

In truth, the American people have very few values which enjoy such broad consensus that, given the choice, our society would enshrine them in our Constitution and render them immune from further popular consideration, regardless of evolving attitudes or changed circumstances. Constitutional protection, we must admit, is a forbidding carapace one need look no further than the contortions engaged in by would-be reformers when values incontestably engraved in the Constitution, like free speech and bearing arms, collide with innovative schemes like campaign finance and gun control.

It is a commonplace for judicial opinions to couch various concerns in extravagant rhetoric about values claimed to be venerated by all Americans. Yet, at bottom, this reflects nothing more or less than the subjective preferences of a majority (often a bare, fractious majority) of judges whose views about social issues, even if they masquerade as legal issues, should be of no greater moment than what the people of, say, Bayonne or Des Moines think about abortion, or gay marriage, or stem-cell research.

The second school of thought holds merely this: that judges are not supreme. It contends that there are firm, objective limits to the areas of life that jurists may remove from the democratic self-determination of the American people. They are found in the text of the Constitution as it was originally understood at the time its provisions were adopted. They do not change over time or with passing fancies. This philosophy is erected on an unchanging premise: In a democracy, it is to be presumed that great social conflicts will be resolved democratically. That presumption is not beyond rebuttal, but for it to be overcome there must be unmistakable proof that the dispute at issue was removed from democratic consideration by the Constitution.

So let Sen.-elect Coburn know how you feel on this issue, and you might remind Sen. Inhofe that you are watching how Specter is handled to see whether the Republican majority will follow through on its stated priorities.

MORE: Steve Moore, head of Club for Growth, lays out the case against Specter on National Review Online. And you can learn more about the controversy, why it matters, and what you can do to help here.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 14, 2004 3:26 PM.

Blue America's bargain with Red America was the previous entry in this blog.

A response to Specter's supporters on the right is the next entry in this blog.

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