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Great Moments in Hypocrisy

May 20th, 2011

Here are some quotes from Republican senators from the last decade. See if you can guess, while reading them, what all of these senators did this week:

Lamar Alexander (R-TN): “I would never filibuster any President’s judicial nominee, period. I might vote against them, but I will always see they came to a vote.”
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA): “Every judge nominated by this president or any president deserves an up-or-down vote. It’s the responsibility of the Senate. The Constitution requires it.”
Tom Coburn (R-OK): “If you look at the Constitution, it says the president is to nominate these people, and the Senate is to advise and consent. That means you got to have a vote if they come out of committee. And that happened for 200 years.”
John Cornyn (R-TX): “We have a Democratic leader defeated, in part, as I said, because I believe he was identified with this obstructionist practice, this unconstitutional use of the filibuster to deny the president his judicial nominations.”
Mike Crapo (R-ID): “Until this Congress, not one of the President’s nominees has been successfully filibustered in the Senate of the United States because of the understanding of the fact that the Constitution gives the President the right to a vote.”
Chuck Grassley (R-IA): “It would be a real constitutional crisis if we up the confirmation of judges from 51 to 60, and that’s essentially what we’d be doing if the Democrats were going to filibuster.”
Mitch McConnell (R-KY): “The Constitution of the United States is at stake. Article II, Section 2 clearly provides that the President, and the President alone, nominates judges. The Senate is empowered to give advice and consent. But my Democratic colleagues want to change the rules. They want to reinterpret the Constitution to require a supermajority for confirmation.”
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.): “In 2002, [voters] returned the Republicans to the majority in the Senate. Then, after 2 years of unprecedented and, in my opinion, unconstitutional denials of simple votes on judicial nominees, Americans elected an even larger majority of Republicans. In fact, the Democrat leader, former Senator Tom Daschle, was defeated by my colleague, Senator John Thune, in large part due to his high-profile obstruction of judicial nominees.” [Source]
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): “I think filibustering judges will destroy the judiciary over time. I think it’s unconstitutional.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.): “Why not allow the President to do his job of selecting judicial nominees and let us do our job in confirming or denying them? Principles of fairness call for it and the Constitution requires it.”

You should, of course, be able to guess that all of these senators have just filibustered a judicial nominee.

Recall that, when Democrats filibustered only the most extremist judicial nominees under Bush, after having confirmed a higher percentage of his nominees for high courts than most presidents even dream of, Republicans excoriated the Democrats and threatened the “nuclear option” of doing away with the filibuster altogether. Since then, of course, Republicans have enacted the filibuster far, far more than any Congress in history, using it as an almost daily tool to obstruct anything they don’t like and even some of what they do like.

Back when it was the Democrats, though, a deal was struck to get past the impasse. Republicans grudgingly, under the deal made, allowed Democrats to use the filibuster under “extraordinary circumstances.”

What are the “extraordinary circumstances” for all of these Republican senators to do something they reviled when it was Democrats doing it?

The nominee, Goodwin Liu, had criticized Samuel Alito in a way they didn’t like. Goodwin, universally hailed as being an excellent judge as well as decent, open-minded, intelligent, and moderate, is being denied a judicial appointment because Republicans want to be pettily vindictive. Liu criticized Alito–criticism which he has since retracted and apologized for–and now Republican senators are willing to do something they only recently held as unconstitutional because they are so offended and unwilling to accept even an express apology and retraction.

So, what did Liu say that has Republican senators willing to violate the constitution over? Here’s the statement cited:

Judge Alito’s record envisions an America where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy to stop him from running away with a stolen purse; where federal agents may point guns at ordinary citizens during a raid, even after no sign of resistance; where the FBI may install a camera where you sleep on the promise that they won’t turn it on unless an informant is in the room; where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man, absent a multiple regression analysis showing discrimination; and where police may search what a warrant permits, and then some. Mr. Chairman, I humbly submit that this is not the America we know. Nor is it the America we aspire to be.

Was this criticism unwarranted? David Alan Sklansky, law professor at UC Berkeley School of Law and a former federal prosecutor, disagrees:

Here are the facts. At the Justice Department, Alito did argue that a lower court had erred in finding a Fourth Amendment violation when a police officer fatally shot an unarmed eighth-grader fleeing from a residential burglary with $10 and a purse; he suggested that the police should be allowed to use deadly force against anyone they reasonably suspect is a fleeing felon. On the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Alito did in fact uphold a decision by federal marshals carrying out an eviction to point shotguns and semi-automatic rifles at residents who were apparently offering no resistance; he explained that the force was reasonable because the family had resisted an earlier eviction effort, was reported to own firearms, and had threatened to shoot any agents that came onto their property.

Alito also upheld the FBI’s warrantless installation of a hidden camera and microphone in a suspect’s hotel room, on the ground that the agents turned on the equipment only when a confidential informant, who consented to the surveillance, was in the room. And Alito did in fact dissent when the 3rd Circuit overturned the death sentence imposed on a black defendant by an all-white jury in Kent County, Del. He took that position in part because he thought that, at least without expert statistical analysis, it wasn’t determinative that Kent County prosecutors struck all the black jurors not only in the defendant’s trial, but also in the three other capital trials held within a year of the defendant’s. Finally, in two separate cases, Alito did dissent from the invalidation of searches that seemed to exceed the literal scope of the underlying warrants; in each case, he argued that the warrant should be read more expansively.

As for Liu’s comments being inappropriate, Sklansky points out that Scalia has been immeasurably more scathing in his attacks against other jurists than Goodwin’s statement could ever be characterized as being. Apparently, that’s OK.

What this comes down to is Republican senators being vastly hypocritical over what is, in the end, an expression of concern over the integrity of the constitution by a widely respected moderate judge who wished nothing more than to respect the legal rights of Americans.

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