Leahy Says Hatch, Thurmond 'Testing the Limits' of Senate Rules

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

(1st Add: Includes story links at the bottom for additional background.)

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - After allegedly breaking his vow to hold a hearing last week on one of President Bush's judicial nominees, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has accused two Republican colleagues of pushing the limits of Senate rules in their responses.

"We never resorted to the tactics and tone used by Republican members of this committee in committee statements, in hallway discussions, in press conferences or in Senate floor debate testing the limits of Senate Rule XIX," Leahy wrote in a five-page letter to Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking minority member of the committee, Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) Oct 11.

Senate Rule XIX Paragraph Two states that, "No senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator."

The nomination of Judge Dennis Shedd to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was originally scheduled to be heard Oct 2, but Leahy postponed that hearing. Leahy promised Thurmond, who was chairman of the committee when Shedd served as its chief of staff, that the nomination would be heard Oct. 9.

When Leahy refused to bring Shedd's nomination up at the Oct. 9 hearing, both Thurmond and Hatch took to the Senate floor to respond.

"I am hurt and disappointed by this egregious act of destructive politics. Chairman Leahy assured me on numerous occasions that Judge Shedd would be given a vote. I took him at his word," Thurmond said.

Hatch went further, accusing Leahy of breaching the Judiciary Committee's regulations.

"Chairman Leahy, in violation of the rules, removed Judge Shedd from the agenda," Hatch noted. "This was not right, because [it] may very well have been the last mark-up Senator Thurmond, the former chairman of the committee, who cares very deeply about Judge Shedd's nomination, was able to attend."

Thurmond will retire when Congress adjourns later this month.

Thomas Jipping, senior fellow in legal studies at Concerned Women for America, said there's good reason for the difference in responses between Democrats and Republicans.

"If Democrats never described Republican behavior that way, it's because Republicans never behaved that way," he said.

John Nowacki, director of legal policy for the Free Congress Foundation, finds it interesting that Democrats came to Leahy's defense.

"It seems that, at least the Democrats don't believe that Leahy's broken promise is conduct unbecoming a senator," he observed. "When Senator Hatch was chairman, he didn't flagrantly disregard the rules of the committee, which required Leahy to bring Shedd up for a vote."

In fact, Rule Three of the Senate Judiciary Committee states that, "On the request of any member, a nomination or bill on the agenda of the Committee will be held over until the next meeting of the committee or for one week, whichever occurs later."

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) Wednesday filed a motion to discharge to the full Senate the nominations of both Shedd and Professor Michael McConnell to the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The motion failed, but Leahy was apparently angry about the attempt.

"We never sought to override Senator Hatch's judgments and authority as chairman of the committee," Leahy wrote in his letter.

Again, Jipping finds good reason for the contradiction.

"Senator Hatch never broke the rules in order to keep nomination in the committee," he noted.

Nowacki said Leahy has no one but himself to blame for the Republicans' responses.

"Leahy has been behind a campaign to prevent some of President Bush's best-qualified nominees from getting a vote," he argued. "It's only reasonable for Republicans to try everything they can to get past Leahy's blockade."

Neither Hatch nor Thurmond had responded to Leahy's accusations by Thursday evening, nor had Grassley's office published a response. Spokespersons for Thurmond and Hatch would not comment on whether or not such a response would be forthcoming.

Read more about the dispute between Thurmond and Leahy

Read more about the opposition to Judge Dennis Shedd

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