Today's WSJ editorial page reports that Senator Arlen Specter is sufficiently upset with the slow pace of judicial confirmations that he plans to shut down the Senate if Democrats do not schedule more confirmation votes on President Bush's appellate nominees.
A look at the numbers explains why the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee is spitting mad. In the last two years of Bill Clinton's Administration, when Mr. Specter was in the chairman's seat, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed 15 appellate court nominees.
Now, more than halfway through Mr. Bush's final two years, Chairman Patrick Leahy isn't returning the Constitutional courtesy. The Democratic Senate has confirmed a mere six nominees with no plans in sight to move the remaining 11 forward. Judicial nominees rarely are confirmed in the final months of a President's second term, so the clock is running out. Democrats figure they'll retake the White House in November, and they don't mind leaving the courts short-handed for another year or two as they stall for liberal nominees. . . .
. . . "I sided with Clinton on his judges who were competent," Mr. Specter points out. After the judicial wars of the Bush years, this notion seems almost quaint.
Mr. Leahy has taken a far more partisan approach to his responsibilities as chairman, holding just one confirmation hearing since September. That was a hastily scheduled hearing for Fifth Circuit nominee Catharina Haynes on February 21 when the Senate was in recess. No Republican on Judiciary was in Washington at the time and Mr. Specter arranged for Senator John Warner from nearby Virginia to pinch-hit for him. Nor does Mr. Leahy appear to mind that, of the 11 appeals-court nominees awaiting Senate action, seven would fill seats deemed to be judicial emergencies. One-third of the 15 seats on the Fourth Circuit, covering Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina, are vacant.
This is further evidence of the downward spiral of politicization of the judicial confirmation process, as each side engages in escalating retaliation against the other for its perceived obstruction -- and there is no end in sight.