Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

EDITORIAL>> Sen. Pryor in the breach

Our own Sen. Mark Pryor, a freshman and one of the least obtrusive ones at that, is taking the lead along with Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and a couple of maverick Republicans in trying to avoid the meltdown over a handful of President Bush’s nominees to appellate courts. We are sort of proud and we wish him godspeed. The country does not need and can hardly stand the stalemate that the nuclear option will clearly produce.

But we have one other reaction. Don’t waste your principles or your capital foolishly. Trying to find a middle ground between the White House and congressional Republican leadership on the one hand and his own party leadership on the other will not save the gentle Pryor from the savaging that will surely follow if the Republicans do not win 100 percent. Better at least to have your principles intact.

The Senate has confirmed more than 200 court appointments by Bush and the Democrats have blocked 10, seven of whom the president is putting up again. The president and the majority leader say it is unfair, unprecedented and maybe even unconstitutional that Democrats would use the filibuster to block a judicial nominee of the president.

But Republicans tried the filibuster, too, in an effort to block six nominees of Bill Clinton and they used other parliamentary maneuvers to prevent 69 Clinton judicial nominees from even receiving a hearing and a vote in committee. Altogether, more than 100 were denied seats on the bench. So the question is neither evenhandedness nor precedent.

Bush’s lone judicial nominee for Arkansas, although he had uttered the sort of extreme remarks about abortion and the subordinate role of women in the home and society that are supposed to be at the heart of this culture war over the courts, was confirmed handily last year.

The judge was endorsed by both Democratic senators from Arkansas, but his confirmation was blocked for more than a year not by Democrats but by a Republican senator who put a hold on his nomination because of his concern about the man’s strange beliefs. Pryor and Sen. Blanche Lincoln urged his confirmation because in his extensive litigation experience as a trial lawyer he impressed those on both sides with his fairness and adherence to established law.

President Bush’s immediate nominee, Priscilla Owen of Texas, whose confirmation will trigger the “nuclear option,” as they call it, carries no such credentials. Even her ultra-conservative colleagues on the Texas Supreme Court have criticized her for diverging from the precepts of established law to reach a philosophical end that she only shares with a few financial backers.

Do your best, Senator Pryor, to bring about some comity in the Senate and avoid the Armageddon that others seek, but do not surrender principle.