Politics: November 2004 Archives

Arlen escapes


Way too often for my liking, elected Republicans do something to justify being called "the Stupid Party." (For the record, people who call the GOP "the Stupid Party" call the Democrats "the Evil Party.")

Yesterday, the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to recommend Arlen Specter to be the committee's new chairman, despite a long and loud outcry from grassroots conservatives who believe, with good reason, that Specter will be an obstacle to needed legal reforms and to the nominations of judges who believe in interpreting the law, rather than legislating from the bench. The other committee members are crowing about the "concessions" they extracted from Specter before endorsing his chairmanship. Specter issued a statement defending his record on judicial nominations and pledging that he would not apply a litmus test against pro-life nominees, that he would hold quick hearings and early votes on the President's judicial nominees, that he will use his "best efforts to stop any future filibusters." He has also pledged not to bottle up legislation and constitutional amendments in committee, even when he is personally opposed.

Let's look at the bargain that was struck: Specter gets what he wants right away in exchange for a promise. What are the consequences if he breaks his promise? There are none. The Republicans have said they could deprive him of his chairmanship if he goes back on his word, but doing so for policy reasons would be unprecedented, and they won't be willing to withstand the condemnation from the mainstream media. And even if the Republicans do respond to a betrayal, the damage will have already been done -- a fine legal mind will have been publicly trashed and blocked from taking a seat on the Federal bench, and the President will have been forced to name someone with views more like Specter's to get him through the Senate.

Maybe Republicans are just too merciful or sentimental or trusting or tradition-bound to press their advantage. The point of winning elections is to accomplish the agenda you set out during your campaign. If you have the power, use it to make the system work to enact your agenda. We have handed a victory to the forces of judicial lunacy in exchange for mere words from someone who has proven himself to be untrustworthy.

Here's a tip for Republican officials: When you're negotiating with someone you don't trust, he should be required to fulfill his part of the bargain before or at the same time that you fulfill your end of the deal. If neither party trusts each other -- that's why there's escrow. Please note that someone issuing a statement promising to fulfill his part of the bargain is not equivalent to actually fulfilling it.

At the very least the Republicans should have put his chairmanship in escrow for two years -- if he supports the President's judicial nominees and works to end the practice of judicial filibustering, he gets to take over as chairman in 2007.

The battle to stop Specter did at least shake things up a bit. Maybe it will make a difference when a controversial judicial nominee is before the committee. We'll see. Until then Arlen Specter's trustworthiness is "not proven."

Time for action on Specter


Although the Senate Judiciary Committee will not formally make a recommendation and the Republican caucus won't vote until January, today may be when the decision is made whether Arlen Specter will assume the chairmanship or not. The Senate is back in Washington for its lame duck session, and Specter will be meeting this morning with his colleagues on Judiciary and with the Senate Republican leadership, according to Roll Call.

If you care about 2nd Amendment rights, lawsuit reform, the defense of traditional marriage, the sanctity of human life -- if you just believe that judges should uphold the law, not rewrite it -- you want someone other than Arlen Specter to hold the reins of the Senate Judiciary Committee. You can find links to all you need to know here. He's on the wrong side of nearly every legal issue that conservatives care about.

Please take a few minutes to call members of the Senate leadership and the Senate Judiciary Committee. You can find e-mail links and phone numbers here. You can send a blast fax here. Do it this morning.

The bottom line is this: Specter plays nice with the conservatives just before an election, then abandons them once he's safely back for another six years. At age 74, he may not run for re-election in 2010, and even if he does, he won't swing back into "be nice to conservatives" mode until late 2008 at the earliest, just as President Bush is leaving office. With two or three retirements on the Supreme Court opening up, we need someone solid in charge of that committee right now.

It will only take you a few minutes to make a difference. Get on the phones!

Coburn mum on Specter


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.



If you're not happy about the possibility of America's Worst Senator being in charge of the Senate Judiciary Committee, NotSpecter.com -- a project of RedState.org -- has the tools to help you communicate your views to those who will make the decisions, including an easy way, for a nominal fee, to send faxes to judiciary committee members and the entire GOP Senate caucus. Check it out.

Dear Senator Frist:

Congratulations on Tuesday's results. As a Republican State Committeeman and a volunteer for the 72-hour Task Force here in Tulsa, I was thrilled to see the huge turnout of Republicans, sweeping President Bush into office and giving you four more seats in the Senate. Tom Coburn's big win here was heartening for all of us who care about fiscal responsibility and the sanctity of human life.

It was heartening to see the high turnout by religious conservatives. Across the nation, millions of voters supported Republican candidates because of their concerns about moral issues and about the activist judges who seek to overrule the will of the people on moral issues.

I am writing to ask that you do whatever you can to ensure that someone other than Arlen Specter be elected Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Allowing Sen. Specter to assume the chairmanship would damage the Republican Party's credibility with those millions who were motivated by moral issues. It would be breaking faith with these voters to give control over the judicial nomination process to a senator who is not committed to judicial restraint. Sen. Specter has blocked and would block judges who are committed to applying the Constitution and laws as they are.

What will happen if conservative nominees are blocked by Sen. Specter? How will conservative voters respond if the President is forced to nominate squishy centrists and judicial activists in order to get any nominees out of committee?

In this election, we saw the Democrats trying to blur the distinction between them and the Republicans on the sanctity of human life. They tried to convince pro-life voters that voting Republican wouldn't advance their cause -- for example, Chris Matthews' assertion that President Bush isn't really pro-life. Here in Oklahoma, Brad Carson, the pro-abortion candidate tried to pose as a pro-life candidate, while smearing Tom Coburn as an abortionist because he performed life-saving surgeries on two women with ectopic pregnancies. The Democrats' hope was that those who are passionate about the sanctity of human life would stay at home.

We were able to rebut this by pointing to President Bush's record of accomplishments and Tom Coburn's clear pro-life voting record in the House. We alerted these voters to the danger that Democrats might regain control of the Senate, at a time when at least three Supreme Court justices are ready to step down and countless lower court seats remain vacant. No matter how conservative the Democratic nominee for Senate might seem, the question boiled down to this: "Do you want a Vermont liberal controlling who becomes a Federal judge?" That concern brought pro-life and pro-traditional-values voters home for the GOP and gave you a stronger majority to lead.

Think ahead to 2006. What will happen if a Pennsylvania liberal Republican spends two years blocking good judicial nominees because they are conservatives? "Values voters" will wonder if the Democrats were right -- does it really matter who controls the Senate? Expect religious conservative turn out to drop and Republicans to lose seats in 2006 as a result.

I am sure that Sen. Specter is promising to be a good boy and a team player, but I don't believe that he will. He is too vain, too fond of the praise he receives from the mainstream media when he betrays his own party. When we really need him, he isn't there for us. Wouldn't it be better to give the Judiciary chairmanship to someone who really believes in his core what your Platform Committee wrote? "The sound principle of judicial review has turned into an intolerable presumption of judicial supremacy. A Republican Congress, working with a Republican president, will restore the separation of powers and re-establish a government of law." A senator with Specter's views, so out of sync with the mainstream of the Republican Party, should be a backbencher, not chairman of one of the most powerful committees.

For the sake of the "values voters", for the sake of traditional values, traditional marriage, and the sanctity of human life, please don't let Arlen Specter be chairman of the Judiciary Committee.


Michael D. Bates

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This page is a archive of entries in the Politics category from November 2004.

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