The 108th Congress opens next week, there’s another senator in the presidential race and there might be a Supreme Court vacancy this year. Fasten your seatbelts, we’re in for a bumpy ride!
Two years ago Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat and now-presidential contender, bumped the more moderate Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia for a seat on the Judiciary Committee. He’s used that perch to prove his liberal bona fides by taking shots at judicial nominees. He led the ambush of appeals-court nominee Charles Pickering and joined the attack on nominee Priscilla Owen.
His was the final vote in the 10-9 tallies against them last year, the first time in a dozen years that the Judiciary Committee defeated judicial nominees so the Senate could not approve them. He voted against appeals-court nominee Dennis Shedd, like the others rated “well qualified” by the American Bar Association.
Sen. Edwards’ next target, again a woman, will be Ohio Supreme Court Justice Deborah Cook. President Bush nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on May 9, 2001. Despite the support of her home-state senators and a circuit-wide vacancy crisis, Justice Cook’s nomination sat for the next 560 days without even a committee hearing.
Justice Cook graduated from the University of Akron law school and later became the first female partner in Akron’s oldest law firm. After 13 years of private practice, she served on the Ohio Court of Appeals before election to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1994. She was re-elected in 2000. Justice Cook has served on the board of trustees of the Summit County United Way and the Volunteer Center, and volunteered with the Safe Landing Shelter and the Mobile Meal program. It’s no surprise that the Delta Gamma sorority gave Justice Cook its National Shield Award for Leadership and Volunteerism.
The fight over judicial appointments is over how much power judges should have, what judges are supposed to do. Ohio’s newspapers have praised Justice Cook for getting it right. The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote that she “offers impeccable qualifications, and her services are sorely needed to help restore some judicial restraint, balance and clarity to the 6th Circuit.” The Columbus Dispatch wrote in October 2000 that Justice Cook “believes a judge’s job is to apply the law without fear or favor, not to make policy or to favor a constituency.”
There’s the rub. The left wants judges who will make policy (or at least politically correct policy), and the senators they control vote for nominees whose future decisions they think will favor pet constituencies. Sen. Edwards made millions as a trial lawyer. He needs money from trial lawyers for his campaign, and he will oppose Justice Cook because they want him to.
Ohio has for more than a dozen years been host to a titanic battle over civil liability reform. The legislature passes it, and the Ohio Supreme Court strikes it down. Most recently, the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers and the Ohio AFL-CIO brought suit, and the Ohio Supreme Court voted 4-3 in August 1999 to again strike down the will of the people.
Justice Cook joined the two dissenting opinions in the case. One of them said that the decision “created a whole new arena of jurisdiction – ‘advisory opinion on the constitutionality of a statute challenged by a special interest group.’” That is, judges making policy and favoring a constituency.
The modus operandi for fighting Bush judicial nominees these days is to turn a case’s result into the judge’s intention. If an employer wins a discrimination case, it’s because the judge “opposed the interests of workers.” If a minor is required to tell her parents before getting an abortion, it’s because the judge “is hostile to the right to choose.” And here, because Justice Cook voted to let the people’s elected legislature do the people’s legislative business, she will be attacked for siding with big business against victims, the injured and infirm. For the left, the law is irrelevant – policies and constituencies are all that count.
Now that the 2004 presidential campaign season is open, all this distorted and twisted nonsense will only get worse. Look for Sen. Edwards to lead the assault on yet another distinguished and qualified woman whose only fault is actually knowing what a judge is supposed to do. Hold on tight.