Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Minority bill of rights?

I believe that America benefits when both parties govern as if their stay in power is temporary. I believe that this same principal can be used for good international policy. I even remember a smart guy saying this around 30AD. He said something like treat others as you would want to be treated.
This golden rule has been explicitly ignored in the past four years. The Republican controlled congress has been down-right awful to the Democrats. I say this not because I lean Democrat but because, under any standard of objectivity, it is true. Let me give you one small example of the Republican over-reach.

When the Republicans held the Senate through the 90s, and President Clinton was in office, the Judiciary Committee routinely held up nominated judges as a way to get leverage on other items. At the time there were an astounding number of openings on the Federal Bench and judges had to work long hours because many positions remained unfilled. The judges had been nominated, but were held up in committee.

I am sure that there were some judges that were not qualified, but the vast majority were well qualified, and not political ideologues. Republicans just wanted the leverage and they used judges, and many other tricks, to get it. I do not believe this is good government. The backlog of cases in our judicial system was unjustified.

When the senate turned over to the Democrats, by a one vote margin, from 2002-2004 the Senate approved all but six Federal Judges. The Republicans screamed like there was no tomorrow. It turns out that all six of these judges were of dubious quality and certainly could be counted as ideologues.

What did the President do? He made a recess appointment of a number of these judges. At the time I felt this was despicable and would have felt that way if the President had been a Democrat.

So let’s look at the actual numbers, because I think this is important. The people responsible for this bullying sort of government need to be held accountable. During 1994 through 2000 (the years that Republicans controlled the Judiciary Committee, while Clinton was in office) the Republicans blocked sixty judicial nominations. Here is an excerpt from Commondreams.org:

"Myth 3: Republicans have the moral high ground. According to Republicans, their opposition to judicial filibusters is motivated by a nonpartisan commitment to law and decorum. Frist said Republicans in the Senate "are the stewards of rich Senate traditions and constitutional principles that must be respected." Frist talks a good game. In reality, Republicans aren't motivated by a desire to protect the hallowed pages of the Constitution. Rather, right-wing zealots have shown themselves ready to do anything--and everything--to force through their judicial nominees while blocking those of their opponents. One of the more egregious examples of dirty tricks occurred in 2002-03, when Republican staffers from the Judiciary Committee hacked into Democratic computers and stole hundreds of files. Fifteen of those confidential memos, which detailed Democratic strategies for fighting the most extreme Bush judicial nominees, were then leaked to friendly conservative media outlets like the Washington Times, columnist Bob Novak and the Wall Street Journal editorial page.
That wasn't the first time Republicans contaminated the judicial nomination process. During the Clinton years, they used a slew of questionable legislative ploys to smother judicial nominations quietly while in committee. One favorite tactic: In 1994 Senator Hatch added language to the Senate rules for confirming nominees. His objective: to allow a single senator to easily--and secretly--block nominations from leaving committee. It worked. Judge Marsha Berzon's nomination was secretly stymied for more than two years. (Senator Bob Smith finally admitted his role.) The nomination of Judge Ronnie White, who had bipartisan support in the Senate, languished in committee for almost two and a half years. Judge Helen White waited four years for a hearing; she never got one. This behind-the-scenes scheming proved to be so popular, Republicans were able to block more than sixty of Clinton's nominations. (To no one's surprise, as soon as Bush took office, Hatch abandoned this procedure, allowing nominees to sail through.) The bottom line: While a filibuster requires at least forty-one Senators on board to block a nominee, under Republican leadership, it took only a single dissent. "

That is an average of ten per year. Over the two years, that the Democrats held the committee, they held up six, less than 6% of the total nominated. More importantly the dirty tricks, practiced by the Republicans, went away.

Despite this admirable record by the Democratic Judiciary Committee, there was a hew and cry over the last six blocked nominations. As far as I’m concerned any Judiciary committee should probably throw out a few nominations just so we know they are doing their job. To only block six percent sounds quite reasonable. As I mentioned above, President Bush then went on to appoint a number of these judges on recess appointments.

Why am I beating this point to death? Now the Republicans are asking for a "minority party bill of rights"; the same bill of rights that was rejected out of hand by the Republicans while they were in power. I feel confident that the Democrats will give it to them. I just find it interesting how this “bill of rights” is now such a good idea when in was irrelevant two years ago. Perhaps all Parties should realize that they govern for the People and their stay is only temporary.

Here is a 2004 article on the “bill of rights” issue at The Washington Post

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