It is time to cancel that trip to Vermont. Be sure to tell the Vermont Chamber of Commerce why you aren’t coming and drop a note to the Burlington Free Press to let the state’s leading paper know as well. The Vermont tourism industry can thank Pat Leahy, the father of the mother of all Senate boycotts. Vermonters may learn that what goes around, comes around.
Democrats celebrated the anniversary of Jim Jefford’s big bounce last week with a small crowd and some television cameras. Jeffords walked down the steps of the Capitol, was greeted by Tom Daschle, and promptly went off-message.
Jeffords began by greeting his “good friend” Pat Leahy, and asked for a hand for the excitable chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. A couple of obligatory claps later – Leahy’s not a popular guy even in his own caucus – Jeffords got to the heart of the matter: “Pat, I sleep better at night knowing that you are picking the judges.”
I played and re-played that tape for my radio audience last week and will do so again this week and for many weeks to come. It is up there with the tape of Paul Wellstone promising to serve only two terms. Wellstone told a lie, but Jeffords told a truth that Dems have been trying to hide.
Pat Leahy is picking federal judges. By himself. He has this unconstitutional power because as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he has sole power over when to schedule hearings for nominees, and he isn’t scheduling them for scores of judges – including eight of President Bush’s original 11 nominees, whose names were sent to the Senate 57 weeks ago.
It is rare for accountability to be so clear for legislators and for a particular state. Vermont’s Jim Jeffords switched parties, which put Vermont’s Pat Leahy in the chairmanship, and Vermont’s Pat Leahy is blocking nominees for the two Courts of Appeal which have direct impacts on my life – the Ninth and D.C. Circuits. Leahy’s having an impact on your life as well, no matter where you live, because the D.C. Circuit deals with cases from across the country. Leahy is especially bad news for Latinos, as he is playing the race card by blocking Miguel Estrada from the most visible judicial appointment in the history of Latino appointees to the federal courts.
I emphasize again: This is Leahy’s doing alone. The chairman has sole control over the scheduling of hearings. The decision to schedule votes after nominees’ hearings is also his alone. Once a vote is scheduled, Leahy’s power diminishes dramatically. Last week’s vote to forward another nominee to the full Senate included yes votes from Sens. Biden and Edwards, even though Leahy had urged a no vote. These two broke with the radical obstructionism of Leahy because they wish to become president, and presidential candidates cannot be part of Leahy’s attempt to ideologically cleanse the federal judiciary of all but Leahy-approved nominees.
This is Vermont’s blockade, initiated by one Vermonter and executed by another. Though I am no enthusiast for blockades that injure innocent parties, here the culpability is too clear to avoid. Vermont is entitled to its own brand of goof-ball politics. That’s the glory of federalism. But the vast, vast majority of Americans support the president and support a diverse and competent judiciary, especially on issues of law and order. They are dismayed by judicial legislators and activist crusaders of the sort that Leahy admires. And there is zero support for a single senator “picking judges.” I’d love Gallup to poll that question.
So, I propose that like-minded Americans veto a Vermont vacation until the eight original nominees are given a hearing and a vote by the Judiciary Committee. It is unreasonable to insist they be confirmed – it is not Vermont’s doing if a nominee is shot down. But it is Vermont’s obstructionism that keeps these eight nominees hostage to Pat Leahy’s fevers.
Some callers to my program suggested broader boycotts, but that would diffuse the pressure. Bed and breakfast liberals and ski lodge conservationists may try and pick up the slack, but the tourism industry is widely wired and vocal. Its profitability is also often thin, and tiny ripples can send shock waves. So in addition to the two suggestions above, wander the web in search of a few hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, ski resorts and let fly with a few e-mails explaining that Pat Leahy has begun to figure in your travel plans.
Fairness for eight nominees is not an outrageous demand. Leahy can vote against all eight in fact. Majorities might reject one or all of them.
But unless and until these eight get their hearings and their vote, just say no to a vacation in Vermont.