Both sides in the judicial appointment war say a nominee’s qualifications, character and views should determine his confirmation. The first two are easy. Understanding this war, however, requires defining the “views” the two sides demand to know. A new confirmation flare-up, this one over a district-court nominee, exposes the ugly answer.
First, a familiar example. Leftists ignored most of appeals-court nominee Charles Pickering’s dozen years on the U.S. District Court. They ignored his pledge, under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee, to put aside his personal views, respect Supreme Court precedent, and apply the law even when he personally disagreed with it.
Instead, leftists wrung their hands about Judge Pickering’s pro-life votes as a state senator in the 1970s and fumed about his speeches as president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention in the 1980s. They got the shakes over his suggestion that incarcerated criminals could benefit from voluntary spiritually based programs. Why did they care so much about his personal and religious views?
Answering this question is the key to understanding the war over judicial appointments. Leftists, you see, believe two very dangerous things. First, they believe that the political ends justify the judicial means. Winning is everything, whether by democratic or some other means, whether in the court of public opinion or a court of law.
Second, leftists believe that “law” is just politics by another name. They evaluate everything about the judiciary, judicial decisions and judicial appointments through the lens of their leftist political agenda. According to leftists, judges don’t (even can’t) put personal views aside so they can apply the law. Judges do (even should) impose their personal views through their decisions.
So those personal views, even the religious ones, are all that leftists care to know. They want to know they can rely on these activist, results-driven judges to deliver the political goods should their pet issue or cause end up in court. Nominees with the “wrong” personal views are “extremists.” Judges with the “wrong” personal views are incapable of being impartial or fair.
Enter J. Leon Holmes, nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. He graduated first in his law school class and also has a Ph.D. in political science. In private practice for the last 20 years, Dr. Holmes has been an adjunct university professor, and even served as a “special justice” on the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1998.
Mere excellence and integrity, however, are not enough. Not these days. Nor, strangely, is support by both Democrat home-state senators. Dr. Holmes, you see, is a devout Roman Catholic and has been (sounds of shock, horror and fainting here) an outspoken advocate for pre-born babies. He co-founded the Arkansas Pro-Life Educational Alliance and, in 1986, served as president of Arkansas Right to Life.
The leftist Alliance for Justice expressed its “grave concerns” about Dr. Holmes’ “troubling record,” branding all mainstream pro-life groups “extremist organizations.” For no other reason than its disagreement with Dr. Holmes’ personal views, the Alliance insists he cannot be “objective in cases in which Supreme Court precedent conflicts” with those views.
These leftists find most threatening views coming mainly from Dr. Holmes’ articles and speeches addressing issues in the context of Catholic doctrine. No Democrats attended his March 27 Judiciary Committee hearing to ask any questions, but went nuts at the April 10 committee meeting discussing the nomination. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., singled out a speech by Dr. Holmes last October to the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, and a 1997 article he co-wrote with his wife in Arkansas Catholic magazine.
The Alliance warns that these views “cast into doubt his ability to provide equal justice to women and gays and lesbians who would appear before him.” People who hold certain personal and religious views are simply, by definition, unqualified to serve on the federal bench. Amen. End of discussion. The Alliance has never expressed similar concern that nominees with liberal views might not be objective in conflicts with their beliefs.
Nor does it matter that high-profile supporters, such as former American Bar Association president Philip Anderson, testify to his ability to do just what judges are supposed to do. Or that the pro-abortion ABA itself endorses Dr. Holmes’ nomination, using criteria such as a nominee’s “freedom from bias and commitment to equal justice.” No, these leftist bigots argue that simply holding these views, alone, disqualifies him for the federal bench.
Do you see how radical, bigoted and dangerous this leftist position really is? Unless President Bush and Senate Republicans publicly denounce it now, in fights over lower-court nominations such as Dr. Holmes, leftists will continue to use these tactics against Christians who would serve their country well as federal judges.