The Terri Schiavo case has reinvigorated a drive by congressional conservatives to discipline and curtail the power of federal judges, just as Senate Republicans are trying to repel Democratic claims that the GOP is extremist and overreaching in its bid to shape the federal judiciary.
The debate is causing tensions within the Republican Party, whose Senate leaders distanced themselves this week from an attack on judges leveled by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).
Party insiders say Congress is unlikely to impeach judges or dramatically limit the courts’ jurisdiction, as DeLay has repeatedly threatened to do. But Democrats, sensing a political opening, have pounced on DeLay’s comments — and similar remarks made by other conservatives — in their campaign to prevent Senate Republicans from changing filibuster rules that have enabled Democrats to block several of President Bush’s appellate court nominees.
“If they don’t get what they want, they attack whoever’s around,” Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters this week. “Now they’re after the courts, and I think it goes back to this arrogance of power.”
Democrats have denounced the comments, as well as those by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who said this week that violence against judges might be linked to a perception that they make “political decisions.”
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said yesterday, “The Schiavo case cast a bright light on the dark forces behind the . . . campaign” to change Senate rules and bar judicial filibusters. Noting that federal judges are asking Congress for an extra $12 million for security systems in most of their homes, Kennedy said: “I urge President Bush and [Senate Majority Leader Bill] Frist to call a halt to the reckless Republican rhetoric that is endangering judges’ lives.”
GOP attacks on the federal judiciary could prove politically tricky. Well more than half of the nation’s 266 U.S. appellate court judges and approximately 1,000 district court judges were appointed by Republican presidents.
Senate Democrats cite such facts to depict Republican activists as extremists who will stop at nothing to turn the federal judiciary into a conservative bastion. “Apparently, it’s not enough for Republicans to rule the White House and the Congress,” Kennedy said. “They want power over the independent judiciary, too. The checks and balances so vital to our democracy are for them merely an inconvenience.”
Meanwhile, the GOP is getting nervous about Tom DeLay now that three big guns in the SCLM — The New York Times, The Washington Post, and ABC News — are finally beginning to find out and announce to the world that he’s a sleazebag. (It’s about time; the blogosphere has been all over him for years now.) They felt the need to send out one of their more sycophantic House members, Roy Blount of Missouri, to announce that “I don’t see any wavering of support for the leader. I think a lot of members think he’s taking arrows for all of us.” An unfortunate metaphor, given that two of DeLay’s colleagues are under investigation for screwing Indian tribes out of money for lobbying for casinos.
And in a rare showing of going for the jugular, the Democrats are finally getting out there with an aggressive and pro-active attack on DeLay.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) , bolstered by a recent poll showing diminished support for DeLay in his Houston area district, said her party would make a strong attempt to unseat him. “There are several good candidates who have put themselves forward…. I think there are other candidates who are looking at the race now,” Pelosi said.
Democratic-allied groups also stepped up efforts to portray DeLay as the face of the Republican Party. The Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal group that previously ran an ad in DeLay’s district, will begin running a new print ad this week that says “once upon a time” conservatives had high standards, but now have DeLay as their leader. The full-page ad will run today in the Washington Times.
Smart move buying an ad in the Moonie-run paper — that’s the paper of record for the GOP. That should get their attention.
Jon Chait in the New Republic Online does a great job of tearing down Brooks’ theory that the conservatives are at odds with each other. Of course, it all depends on how you define “conservative,” but by and large, they’re all at one with their Dear Leader:
Brooks insists, “Conservatives have thrived because they are split into feuding factions that squabble incessantly.” In fact, on every important debate of his presidency, Bush has enjoyed a solid phalanx of conservative pundits all repeating the same talking points on his behalf. It’s a successful arrangement. It also worked for the Comintern, for a while. I’m sure the communist intellectuals who relentlessly backed Moscow’s every move liked to flatter themselves by insisting they were a bunch of squabbling freethinkers, too.
Я соглашаюсь, товарищ!