Tonight, the U.S. Senate will convene a historic all-night session -- a "justice for judges" marathon to debate and then request up-or-down votes on well-qualified judicial nominees. Provoked by unprecedented filibusters and unconscionable character assassinations against several nominees, the necessity for such a session is just the latest in a series of signs that the judicial confirmation process is badly broken.
All of the judicial nominees now pending before the Senate have worked hard to achieve success in their careers. Many have overcome great personal obstacles to get where they are. Yet they are being badly mistreated by a partisan minority of senators and special-interest groups.
These senators defend their record by pointing out that they have tolerated the confirmation of many nominees and filibustered only a few -- Miguel A. Estrada, who withdrew his nomination; Mississippi Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr.; Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen; and Alabama Atty. Gen. William H. Pryor Jr. These senators repeat their record like a mantra: "168-4" -- 168 of President Bush's nominees have been confirmed; four have been filibustered, meaning they've been denied up-or-down votes by a minority of senators.
Where I come from, it is wrong to treat people like statistics. Where I come from, you don't mistreat some people and then justify that misconduct by how well you've treated others. It is wrong to disrespect even one nominee.
The attacks on nominees aren't politics as usual, they are politics at its worst. The judicial confirmation process is now plagued by a cruel combination of obstruction and destruction.
First, the obstruction: The current filibusters are unprecedented in the history of our nation and of the Senate. Even the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee acknowledged -- indeed, he boasted -- that the current blockade of judicial nominees is an "unprecedented" effort. 168-4? Try 0-4.
No judicial nominee who has enjoyed the support of a majority of senators has ever been denied an up-or-down vote -- until now. I cannot understand how anyone can be proud of this record.
Consider another shameful filibuster record in our nation's history -- the blockading of civil rights legislation. During the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, civil rights were denied four times. In that time, Congress enacted, by my count, 4,473 other pieces of legislation. Is "4,473-4" a record to be proud of -- one in which "only" four civil rights bills were filibustered?
During Lyndon Johnson's White House tenure, nearly 2,000 bills were enacted. "Only" three civil rights bills were subjected to filibuster (although two were eventually overcome). Is "1,931-3" something to be celebrated? Clearly not.
Democrat and Republican senators alike have long agreed it is wrong to encroach on presidential prerogatives and politicize the judiciary through the use of the filibuster. Before this Congress, senators of both parties respected the doctrine of majority rule, the judicial confirmation process under our Constitution. None of President Clinton's nominees faced a filibuster, and all who had the support of a majority were confirmed. This body has never defeated a judicial nominee by filibuster -- and for good reason.
Moreover, what we are witnessing today is far worse than mere obstruction. Senators and outside groups are not just delaying nominees, they are trying to destroy their names and reputations.
Estrada, a Honduran immigrant who became an American and worked hard to become one of Washington's top appellate lawyers, was called a "kook" and "scary" on the floor of the Senate.
California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown -- whose nomination will be debated tonight -- a daughter of sharecroppers and the segregated South, overcame racism to rise to the top of California's legal profession. Yet one senator called her views "despicable." A liberal publication labeled her "a Jim Crow-era judge, in natural blackface," and published a series of racist cartoons against her and other prominent black Republicans. The chairman of the NAACP said that the cartoons were "money well spent."
A National Organization for Women official called Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering Sr. a "racist," "bigot" and "woman-hater." One senator categorically smeared all of President Bush's judicial nominees as "selfish" and "mean."
These nominees are not mean -- the process is. If a partisan minority of senators can't persuade the bipartisan majority against a nominee, the losing side should play fair, follow tradition and allow the majority to vote. Most important, all the nominees deserve the respect of all senators. Destroying just one person's reputation is one too many. And four unconstitutional filibusters of judicial nominees are four too many.