Black Conservatives Join Fight Over Stalled Judicial Nominees

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:30 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - With a battle brewing over the judicial nomination of Janice Rogers Brown, Senate Republicans joined a handful of black conservatives Tuesday to denounce the Democrat-led filibusters of President Bush's nominees.

Brown, a black justice on the California Supreme Court, was nominated by Bush in July to fill a seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. She had a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago, and her nomination is expected to soon reach the Senate floor.

Liberal interest groups and Senate Democrats have opposed her nomination, and when Republicans do schedule a confirmation vote, she could follow four other nominees who failed to garner the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.

Republican senators used Tuesday's gathering to highlight the obstructionism, but they also gave black conservatives a forum to denounce the treatment Brown has received.

"The Senate has once again shown itself to be out of step with America," said Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, a black Republican elected last year. Steele said that by politicizing the nomination process, potential federal judges would be reluctant to serve.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, complained that Democrats were treating Bush's nominees "like dirt." He said it was particularly vicious for Democrats to filibuster qualified minorities.

"We've got to stop this, and we've got to do everything that it takes to stop it," Hatch said. "We were fair to President Clinton's nominees. We put 377 on the courts, the second all-time record of confirmed nominees. We just ask that our nominees have a vote up or down on the Senate floor."

Two other minority nominees - former Justice Department attorney Miguel Estrada and Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Claude Allen - also met resistance. Estrada withdrew himself from consideration after Republicans failed seven times to shore up the 60 votes needed to cut off debate in the Senate. Allen's nomination is still in committee.

Besides Estrada, Democrats have successfully blocked three other nominees, including Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor and U.S. District Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. of Mississippi.

Hatch and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said Republicans were prepared to fight for the nominees, even if it means changing Senate rules to get them confirmed. Hatch said he favored a plan known as the "nuclear option," which would require nominees to get a simple majority for confirmation.

Santorum described the filibusters as a "very serious crisis" and one of the most important issues facing the Senate.

Even freshman senators weighed in Tuesday. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.) called on Democrats to let the nominees have an up-or-down vote. Both senators lashed out at the treatment nominees like Brown have received.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) defended the Democrats' opposition to Brown.

"We are within our rights to raise serious questions about her eligibility," Daschle told reporters. "We're going to continue to do that. I can give you the names of virtually every single civil rights organization in the country who oppose Ms. Brown right now."

Just as Brown's supporters gathered Tuesday, her opponents plan a similar venture to the Capitol on Wednesday. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights is organizing the event featuring Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The black leaders plan to speak in opposition to Brown and other nominees "whose records display hostility toward civil rights, workers' rights, women's rights, individual rights and civil liberties."

Speakers at the Republican gathering denounced the tactics of opponents. Larry Thompson, a former deputy attorney general in the Bush administration, said liberals don't like when minorities disagree with their ideology.

"There was a time in our history when a lot of people thought, in a demeaning way, that all African-Americans looked alike," Thompson said. "I can remember a time when we as a people worked long and hard to try to make a point that all African-Americans do not look alike.

"I think the time has come that we need to work just as hard to make sure that all African-Americans do not think alike," Thompson added. "We do not think alike, and we should not think alike. We need a diversity of opinion in the African-American community."

Niger Innis, spokesman for the conservative Congress of Racial Equality, accused Democrats of "ideological tyranny" by expecting women and blacks to think a certain way.

When asked about the accusation, Daschle said: "I am becoming more and more amused. We're either anti-Catholic, anti-Hispanic or now anti-African-American. It seems like just about every time we raise reservations or concerns about a nominee, race or ethnicity or religion comes up. I think it's wrong. I think it's bad for the institution, and I think it's bad for the debate itself."

Innis, however, promised that the black community would rally around nominees like Brown and Allen who have met resistance.

"We will galvanize our grassroots forces to fight against this new tyranny," Innis said, "this tyranny of ideology."

See Earlier Story:
Liberals Intensify Attacks on DC Circuit Court Nominee
(Oct. 22, 2003)

Listen to audio for this story.

E-mail a news tip to Robert B. Bluey.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.