Pat Leahy vs. the pro-choice community, part 2

About a month ago, I posted a diary about pro-choice groups’ mounting dismay with Vermont’s own Senator Patrick Leahy, usually a liberal stalwart. But in this case, he’s putting Senate comity above the interests of liberal activists. My post was followed by surprising silence in the rest of the Vermont media, which are usually quick to chronicle every jot and tittle of Leahy’s career.

Do they not like cribbing from GMD? Or do they not like reporting bad news about St. Patrick? I don’t know. But now comes Politico.com with a further report, including the Obama Administration’s rising impatience with Leahy, described by Politico as “the one and only man who could peel away the next layer of Senate control over [judicial] nominations.”

For those just joining us, Leahy is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which makes him the key player on judicial nominations. He has made a point of honoring a Senate tradition of “blue slips,” which allows any single Senator to block a judicial nominee from his/her home state. Which allows Republicans an effective filibuster on any judicial nominee from any of the 32 states with at least one Republican Senator. Which includes the vast majority of federal court vacancies.

The odd thing about Leahy’s insistence is that his Republican predecessor at Judiciary, Orrin Hatch, did not uphold the blue-slip tradition.

And, with a good chance the Republicans will retake the Senate this November, they are in no mood to approve any new nominees. As White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler told Politico, the blue slip policy “assumes a level of good faith on behalf of the Republican senators.”

You might say that Leahy is playing croquet while the Republicans are fighting a back-alley brawl.  

Also, The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post in which she decried Leahy’s adherence to the blue-slip policy while highly qualified Obama nominees sit on the sidelines.

Judgeships matter, as the president and Leahy know well. Is it too much to ask – is it anything to ask at all – that the president nominate judges who share his values? That is, after all, what Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did.

But to our dear St. Patrick, a hoary — and inconsistently enforced — Senate tradition is more important than getting more Obama judges onto the federal bench. Usually, he’s pretty well grounded in reality, in spite of his nearly four decades in the World’s Most Distinguished Boy’s Club. But in this case, it looks like our Senior Senator is identifying more with his cloakroom buddies than with his party or his loyal supporters.

If anyone from Senator Leahy’s office, or the Senator himself, would like to offer an explanation to GMD’s readership, I’m happy to listen.  

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