A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Thursday, September 04, 2003 :::
Miguel Estrada. Few things in modern politics can be as depressing as today's news that Miguel Estrada was withdrawing from consideration for the second highest court in the land. Here, an immigrant who came to this country and made the most it had to offer has been denied a place on the Apellate Court because he was uppity.

Make no mistake. The Democratic Party was out to get him because he was a minority and dared to do what he wanted. He was not a "house Latino." He excelled at what it did, and thought for himself. This was his chief sin, and this was the chief reason he was blocked.

Blocked. Denied a vote. Never voted up or down, just blocked by Democratic stalling tactics, what has been called a "fillibuster" since the days of belligerent racist John C. Calhoun in the 1840's and 1850's. He is the one who invented the term, which he took from piracy. A filibuster does not always have to involve speaking; anyone with a good grasp of parliamentary procedure can stall for hours, days, or months. And the Democrats were here taking advantage of a rule of the Senate known as "unlimited debate." That is, anyone can talk as long as they want on any subject unless 60 Senators vote to tell them to sit down and shut up. The vote to end debate ("cloture") on the Estrada nomination never got more than 55 votes.

But the thing that is most galling is that it did not need to end this way. Do you remember stories of how the late, largely unlamentd Strom Thurmond (then a Democrat) stood for 24 hours to block a vote on a civil rights bill in the 1950's? Do you remember any Democrat having to do that over Miguel Estrada? No. The Senate would take up his nomination, let everyone talk for a few hours, and then go home. And the Republicans would cry about how unfair it all was. Which it was. But the Republicans could easily have done something about it. Easily.

All they had to do was refuse to let the filibustering Senators go to bed. That's it. Oh, you want to delay a vote and keep talking? Well, we're not leaving until we have our vote.

Orrin Hatch, the Judiciary Committee chairman, talked in February of forcing the Democrats to do just that, but nothing ever came of it. There was a lot of ink spilled over how nasty the Democrats were, but none over how weak-kneed the Republicans were. Indeed, frequent prodding of commentators revealed that many did not know that the Republicans could do that, but others did and indeed were kind of wondering about why the Republicans did not just call the Democrats' bluff.

But then Sen. Hatch went silent, and some writers who, in private, were willing to wonder about it, never dared mention it in public.

Which makes one think.

Today, Byron York, the National Review's knowledgeable political correspondent, touched on this issue only to put it aside. He quotes some Republican leaders as complaining that, with an entire agenda to push through, they could not give it all up for Estrada. With all due respect to Mr. York, a superb reporter, anyone who has ever been near the Senate knows that is nonsense. There are weeks when the Senate does nothing. And there are times where popular sentiment makes filibusters extremely unpopular. How about right after the conclusion of the major battles in Iraq, before the current problems started? It would not have taken very long. Poll after poll shows that the average Hispanic voter wanted to give Miguel Estrada an up-or-down vote. How long would the Democrats have lasted if the Senate had shut down for just one day--just one day--while the Democratic Party tried to deny him that vote? Tom Daschle would not have been able to sit through even 10 minutes of McNeil-Lehrer without collapsing in fake tears of remorse, desparately trying to win back all the Hispanic votes he had lost.

Which inspires the further, depressing, thought.

In the Weekly Standard a few weeks ago, (now, unfortunately, not available on-line to non-subscribers), Fred Barnes, perhaps the country's leading political analyst, made a lengthy and convincing case the George W. Bush is a hardline conservative. He has given up on deficits, said Mr. Barnes, because Americans really like Big Government, a point George F. Will has been making for 25 years. And what was front and center in Mr. Barnes's case the Bush Fils was One of Us? The judicial nominees.

But let us reflect. Mr. Bush has nominated a number of very conservative judges, but the Democrats have only swallowed hard when the nominee belonged to a group that they considered one of their own: Hispanics, women. Or when the nominee was too religious. And so the nominations for those judges have been dragging on for years, leading to such tragedies as today's sad announcement. A liberal newspaper reporter, when asked about the whole fight, offered that the debates were dragging on because they played to each party's core consituency. In other words, politics was driving the strategies of both the left and the right.

So what if they were nominated for cynical reasons? For reasons of politics? Simply to embarrass the Democrats? And what if they were nominated just to serve as poster--nominees for the Republican fundraising effort? Then it would make sense--despicable sense, but sense-- to allow a moment like the initial "post-war" glow to pass in favor of keeping the nominations open and the money pouring in.

Let us remember that Lyndon Johnson somehow kept the Civil Rights act alive and the Senate operating despite Strom Thurmond's best efforts, so it is possible to keep the committees going even as a handful of Senators grind on and on and on. Johnson, being a "Master of the Senate," simply chose the right time to do it.

What would confirm that the whole thing was a charade? That's very easy.

There are persistent reports that George Bush would like to appoint his personal friend and current Legal Counsel, Alberto Gonzales, to the Supreme Court. He is a liberal, though it would be hard for the Republicans to vote against him. And so W. might actually be willing to consider a presidency-defining betrayal of everything he claimed to stand for, just as his father appointed David Souter to the court. Just by being on the Court, Gonzales could overturn each and every decision by each and every judge pointed to by Fred Barnes. That appointment, or one like it, would prove that W. was looking to gain all the points he could from throwing lower court nominees to the faithful, and the Big One to the "moderates," so he could prove to each and every one of them that he was "one of us"--ideological, but not that dangerous.

And what is depressing is the conservative press has not been all over this from the start. Make no mistake: the Republicans could easily have forced a vote. They actively chose not to, and were never held to account.

And now the Republic is losing a great jurist, and an immigrant has been humiliated for being uppity.

To the Democrats, and to the leaders of my own party, I say, "Shame, shame, shame all around."

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 6:38 PM



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