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May 18, 2004
Abu Ghraib: The Latest Judicial-Nominee Excuse

The Washington Post reports this morning that the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal has become the latest, sexiest excuse for Senate Democrats in holding up judicial nominees. The latest victim in the judicial wars is William J. Haynes, who had already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote -- but Ted Kennedy wants him recalled to committee before the full Senate takes up the vote to answer questions about Abu Ghraib:

Key Senate Democrats are pushing -- so far without success -- to reopen hearings on a top Pentagon official whose judicial nomination has become entangled in the scandal over abuses of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces. The nomination of Defense Department general counsel William J. Haynes II for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee two months ago -- well before the Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke into the open [emph. mine].

Note the phrasing on that last sentence; Congress had been apprised of the abuse scandal months ago -- in fact, the Post reported on allegations of abuse in January. Haynes appeared before the Judiciary Committee last month, which means that the committee members had adequate time to question Haynes on this issue. For some reason, they chose not to do so, probably because they wanted to score pro-choice, anti-PATRIOT Act points in front of the media. However, the pictures leaked out earlier this month, and so now the scandal carries enough heft that Democrats feel they can bludgeon Haynes with it.

Kennedy and Richard Durbin have taken the unusual step of requesting that the committee re-open hearings into Haynes' nomination, co-signing a letter to chair Orrin Hatch. Hatch had no comment yesterday, but an aide told reporter Helen Dewar that their request had little chance of approval. As Dewar makes clear, Democrats' focus on Haynes' role in Abu Ghraib plays only a small part in their strategy to block his nomination:

Democrats continued negotiations with the White House in hopes of reaching an agreement on thorny, politically charged issues that have held up action on Bush nominees for weeks. Republicans are angry at Democrats for blocking some of Bush's most controversial nominees, and Democrats are angry at the White House for using its power to put two of those nominees -- Charles W. Pickering Sr. of Mississippi and William H. Pryor Jr. of Alabama -- in office during congressional recesses.

If no deal is struck by today, Republicans plan to force a vote on limiting debate on a noncontroversial district court nominee -- Marcia G. Cooke, an African American lawyer from Florida -- to put Democrats on the spot. But Democrats have fended off similar attempts to break their filibusters against other nominees and have indicated they are likely to do so again unless a compromise is reached before the vote.

Senate Democrats have played obstructionist games led by Kennedy and Tom Daschle during this entire session, and then act enraged when George Bush took the Constitutional route of recess appointments to bypass their unprecedented filibustering of appellate-court nominees. They continue to throw tantrums over losing power in both electoral branches of the government and demonstrate why they're incapable of providing measured, intelligent leadership even in peacetime. Having started the judicial-nomination wars in the mid-80s with their unconscionable and slanderous attacks on Robert Bork, they now intend on using any excuse they can, including isolated acts of shameful conduct by American servicepeople, to deny nominees an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

I can think of no better domestic issue for a reason to vote against Democrats for the Senate in 2004.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 18, 2004 6:36 AM

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