Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On Judges, Hypocrites and Limp Wrists

We heard lots of righteous indignation last year when Sen. David Williams described now Leut. Gov. Dan Mongiardo as "limp-wristed." That's a code that's no longer a code.

Williams's remark crossed the line from disagreement about political philosophy and public policy -- entirely appropriate for debate -- to casting aspersions based on personal attributes and vague hints of a sexual nature -- not appropriate against anyone.

Yet the Lexington Herald-Leader reprinted a similar allegation that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is "limp-wristed" in his opposition to the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. In the past, the Herald-Leader correctly denounced the "limp-wristed" label as applied to Mongiardo, but not as to McConnell. (Indeed, the H-L magnified the aspersion by reprinting it.)

On the merits, it is laughable to assert that McConnell's advocacy against judicial activism has been "limp-wristed" as regards Sotomayor or any other nominee. McConnell has stood for judicial restraint and the rule of law more than any other member of the Senate. When other Republicans were preoccupied with running for President, McConnell was a constant presence at Federalist Society meetings (both local and national) where he demanded an up or down vote for all nominees, whether or not they get confirmed in the end. McConnell has been criticized for his relentless focus on the need for judicial restraint and the proper role of unelected Federal judges, an issue that he addressed recently at the University of Louisville's law school graduation.

McConnell will ensure that Sotomayor's record is given the same scrutiny that then Senator Barack Obama demanded for the confirmation hearings of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. As a former district court and now appellate judge with a propensity for inflammatory speeches, Sotomayor's record provides much to scrutinize -- including more than 3,000 judicial opinions.

A filibuster would be necessary and appropriate only if Republicans were denied the opportunity to explore the Judge's vast record. Absent a move to railroad her confirmation, however, no filibuster is necessary.

Once the nominee's opinions have been reviewed and the committee testimony taken, McConnell knows that all nominees deserve and up or down vote, including Judge Sotomayor. Perhaps McConnell will vote "nay," as he did when Sotomayor was elevated to the Second Circuit. Or perhaps not: Sotomayor would replace Justice David Souter, simply swapping one liberal with another liberal.

The problem is not that McConnell is not conservative enough, not aggressive enough on activist judges (or anything else for that matter). The problem is that he doesn't have enough troops in the Senate. That's one more reminder for Kentuckians: we cannot afford to let Sen. Jim Bunnings persist in his losing campaign.

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