Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

EDITORIAL>> Call Sens. Pryor and Lincoln today

If you turn on your television this week and do even a little channel surfing, you are apt to be beseeched by an announcer to tell Arkansas’ two U. S. senators to give Presi-dent Bush’s court appointments an up-or-down vote by changing the rules to prevent filibusters. Viewers in Arkansas and five other states where senators of one or the other party are thought to be shaky are being bombarded with commercials ahead of the vote on abolishing the filibuster.

Letting Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor know how you feel is not a bad idea. They seem almost certain to vote to retain the right of unlimited debate on judicial nominees, but they surely would like to know how you feel.

But the question bears more contemplation than you will get from these punchy little ads by a group called Progress For America, which promotes President Bush’s agenda on Social Security, taxation of the wealthy, judges and other matters. (Much of the money for the ads comes from Alex Spanos, the owner of the San Diego Padres.)

For instance, you will get the impression that Democrats are suddenly and shockingly thwarting Bush nominees to the federal bench and leaving courtrooms unmanned. Ten of more than 200 Bush court nominees have been blocked, but the others, all conservatives, have been confirmed. The ads will not mention that Republicans used parliamentary techniques to prevent 69 judicial appointees by President Clinton from receiving even a hearing and altogether blocked 114 Clinton appointments to district and appellate courts. Republican senators attempted to filibuster six others to death. Factor that record when you weigh the unfairness of the Democratic filibuster.

The ads focus on two current nominees who are before the Senate. One, Priscilla Owen, is a neighbor from Texas. She sits on the Texas Supreme Court. The ads say she is endorsed by major newspapers. The fact is that even conservative Texas newspapers have said her judicial activism — overriding statutes and precedents that protect consumers and workers — made her unsuited for appellate duty. She was sharply criticized even by President Bush’s new attorney general when he served on the same court with her. Her flagrant fund-raising among corporate groups and lawyers and her refusal to recuse when their cases come before her have raised ethical concerns.

Then there is the question of how much power a majority should have when it controls both houses and all branches of government. The filibuster, a tool of minority factions that can be exercised in only one house, forces consensus and protects us all from the extremes of partisan government.

Think about all these questions and then do what the ads say. Let your senator know how you feel.