Courting Judges in the State of the Union
Anybody who measures importance merely by numbers might mistakenly conclude from last night's State of the Union address that judicial nominations don't matter much. President Bush used only 99 words and about 40 seconds to remind the Senate and the rest of us about the issue that tips the scale on every other issue he addressed.
The President wasn't just reminding us that the lowest unemployment rate since the Great Depression has left us with more robes than judges to fill them:
A future of hope and opportunity requires a fair, impartial system of justice. The lives of citizens across our Nation are affected by the outcome of cases pending in our federal courts. And we have a shared obligation to ensure that the federal courts have enough judges to hear those cases and deliver timely rulings. As President, I have a duty to nominate qualified men and women to vacancies on the federal bench. And the United States Senate has a duty as well to give those nominees a fair hearing and a prompt up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.
In keeping with tradition, certain dignitaries preceded the President into the House Chamber as he arrived to address Congress and the nation. The first four to enter were members of the U.S. Supreme Court: Chief Justice John Roberts followed by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito.
They're all very nice men who have very different views about judging. Their order of appearance last night was a picture worth a thousand words.
Two "conservatives" framed Kennedy (the "centrist") and Breyer (the "liberal"). In case you forgot, the centrist and the liberal hit the snooze alarm during their hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC). The Senate confirmation vote was like watching them pass an "Air Is Our Friend" resolution.
Then there's the confirmation process of the "conservatives." Unless you were captured by an alien space ship or otherwise absent from the planet, you probably recall that those hearings were a tad touchier - Blitzkrieg, Russian front and War of the Worlds come to mind.
But there the "conservatives" sat in the front row last night, smiling with no visible battle scars, bedecked in black robes because the American people understood it's much more than just having a judge for every robe. It's about the judicial philosophy of the one wearing the robe if we are to have a "future of hope and opportunity."
A brief look at recent Court opinions and the cases that are or have been on the Court's recent calendar remind us that what judges do affects every area of our lives and every issue the President addressed last night. For example:
- Anti-terrorism: Caldwell v. Quarterman; Rahmani v. United States
- Immigration: Gonzales v. Duenas-Alvarez; Zheng v. Gonzales
- Border control: United States v. Resendiz-Ponce
- Racial discrimination in public education: Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle Sch. Dist.; Meredith v. Jefferson County Bd. of Educ.; Defend Affirmative Action v. Granholm
- Discrimination against religious school: Anderson v. Durham
- Public school requiring students to act out Muslim prayers and religious profession: Eklund v. Byron Union School District
- Parents' challenge of a sex-ed survey in public school: Fields v. Palmdale School District
- Student speech rights: Frederick v. Morse; Harper v. Poway Sch. Dist.
- Taxpayer complaints against the IRS: Hinck v. United States
- Energy: BP America Production Co. v. Burton
- Religious speech: City of Portland v. Gathright
- Environment: Nat. Assn. of Home Builders v. Defenders of Wild Life
- Child Pornography: Wagers v. United States; Sorabella v. Connecticut; Macewan v. United States
- Obscene devices: Acosta v. Texas
- Crime Victims' Rights: Carey v. Musladin
- Pro-life speech: Center For Bio-Ethical Reform v. Honolulu
- Abortion: Cano v. Baker
- Partial birth abortion: Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood
- Church autonomy: Tomic v. Catholic Diocese of Peoria
- State ballot initiative requiring voter identification: Purcell v. Gonzales
- Discrimination against the Boy Scouts of America: Evans v. Berkeley
- Homelessness: New York v. Fifth Ave. Presbyterian Church
- Cable indecency: Huffman v. Michigan
- Nude dancing: Heideman v. South Salt Lake City
- Union dues for union-endorsed political causes: Davenport v. Washington Education Assoc.
- Grass roots lobbying: FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life
Most of these cases were decided by the federal circuit and district courts that will stand as decided because the Supreme Court denied review. Every year, the lower courts rule on hundreds of vital cases that will never be reviewed by the high Court.
So far, the "loyal opposition" has promised the President and Americans more of the same six years of dirty politics and partisan obstructionism when it comes to confirming judges. And that's why four highly qualified nominees to the federal circuit courts asked the President to withdraw their nominations. They've endured character assassination, distortion of their records and beliefs for years and they've had enough.
It's why the President's 99 words should speak volumes to us all. If we are to have "a future of hope and opportunity" and "a fair, impartial system of justice," we must have real judges - and not black-robed policy wonks - deciding what's best for our families, our culture and our survival as one indivisible nation under God.
Nothing will change in the Senate unless American voters turn up the heat on politicians who can see the light of a coming election.
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