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President Bush's judicial nominees represent a legacy worth fighting for

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted April 28, 2003

I am about to take a position that will make me a heretic in the conservative movement. It won't be the first time, although other heretical positions have tended to be about people, such as the testimony that I delivered against John Tower for Secretary of Defense.

My heresy this time relates to an issue: judicial nominations.

I think federal judges are the most important legacy an administration can leave. They can outlast the presidency by a generation. Everything else a president does can be rescinded or repealed by his successor. Bill Clinton, with the stroke of a pen, rescinded the so-called Mexico City policy that had started during the presidency of Ronald Reagan and continued through the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush.

If Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Tom Daschle (D-SD) succeed in blocking the best of President Bush's federal judges, they will have deprived this administration of its most important legacy. To be honest about it, President Bush's nominees for the federal bench have been better than either those nominated by Reagan or his father. They are extraordinary. If Bush can fill all the vacancies in the federal court system, even if he should be denied a second term, then he will have made the greatest contribution a president can make.

To accomplish that, the current obstructionist tactics employed by the Senate liberals must be soundly thwarted. Right now a filibuster is being conducted against a nominee for the federal courts of appeals, and it appears a second one is being contemplated against another highly qualified nominee. At the same time, the liberals are applying a religious test against a district court nominee.

The only way a filibuster will be broken is if President Bush targets those Senators most likely to switch on cloture. He would then visit their states and single them out. Many of these Senators come from small states. A presidential visit would receive two full days of coverage. The grassroots could then follow up and really turn the heat on. In addition, when that swing is completed, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) could then conduct a real filibuster, keeping the Senate in session around the clock. That would highlight to the American people just what the liberals are doing to Bush's outstanding judicial nominees. There is a high probability that enough Democrats, especially those up for re-election next year, would defect from their leadership's line on a vote for cloture, permitting an up or down vote on the nominees. The odds would then be very high that all three nominees would be confirmed.

So far so good. Now comes my heresy. Right now the President and his cabinet are out pitching his tax cuts. It is a tough sell. Most Americans do not believe we should have more tax cuts at this time. It is unlikely the president will win this battle. Make no mistake about it. I favor the President's original growth package. I want to see Congress enact it. But with the promise made by Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) that no tax cuts higher than the $350 billion approved by the Senate would be permitted in a Conference Committee bill, it is going to be pretty tough to bring these folks back on the reservation.

The President can't handle two such issues at the same time. While I am all for his tax cuts and believe they are important to jump start the economy, I think the probability is low that the President will win this battle. On the other hand, if President Bush goes all out and makes the case against the obstructionism that is going on in the U.S. Senate, I think the probability is high that he can win that case.

I know for much of the conservative movement tax cuts are the highest priority there is. My heresy comes into play because I am suggesting that federal judges are a higher priority than tax cuts.

We can probably live with $350 billion in tax cuts, especially if the President pushes hard for his energy bill, which would also help to jump-start the economy.

We can't live with Ted Kennedy and Tom Daschle keeping the best of Bush's judicial nominees off of the bench.

In my view, the White House needs to scrap its tax cut crusade immediately in favor of a crusade to get enough Senators to vote for cloture so that his judicial nominees can be confirmed. The federal judiciary affects every issue any of us is interested in.

The war in Iraq may not be Bush's lasting legacy. We don't know how many weapons of mass destruction will be found. Moreover, if democracy brings fundamentalist Muslims to power, we will end up with something worse than what we had before the war. I am not suggesting that things will necessarily turn out bad. I am suggesting it is a possibility. On the other hand, President Bush's superb nominees for federal judgeships -- if they are confirmed -- will be on the federal bench for 20, even 30 years. That is a legacy worth fighting for.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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