Bench Memos

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Incoming Chairman Leahy


Out of an exaggerated sense of duty, I attended Senator Leahy’s speech today on his agenda for the Judiciary Committee in the next Congress.  Overall, it was an extravagantly partisan plea for bipartisanship.  (Leahy’s prepared text is here.  I believe that he often deviated from it, but I didn’t have it in front of me to check.) 

On judges, Leahy asserted that the White House “has used judicial nominations for partisan political purposes.”  He didn’t give any specifics, so I’m not entirely sure what he meant.  Perhaps he is contending that some nominees have been selected for “partisan political purposes.”  If so, I’d like to hear whom he might possibly have in mind.  More likely, he is complaining that the White House (until this last election, at least) had used the fact of Democratic obstruction of judicial nominees to good effect in Senate races.  Well, much as Leahy may prefer that obstruction be cost-free, that’s an entirely legitimate use and one that is sure to continue.

Leahy also called for “consensus nominees,” which appears to be just a euphemism for a Democratic veto.


In the Q&A session, Leahy asserted that conservatives “brag about the courts being an arm of the Republican Party.” Oh, yeah?  Who?  He also repeatedly mischaracterized what the “unitary executive” theory is.  He even referred to it at one point as “unitary government.”


Nina Totenberg asked Leahy whether he would reimpose the blue-slip policy that she seemed to think had been abandoned, and Leahy stated that he would.  I’d be interested in finding out what either of them thinks needs to be restored, since Chairman Specter has in fact had the most deferential blue-slip policy in recent decades (deferential, that is, to home-state senators, including Democrats).


Leahy was even worse on national security.  For example, he somehow finds it “incredible” that U.S. citizens can’t see some so-called terror score that the government has assigned them based on their foreign travel.  Gee, if I were an al Qaeda terrorist, I’d sure find it useful to see what my score was.  Yes, there are some countervailing interests that innocent citizens have, but striking the right balance is difficult and is not advanced by rhetoric like Leahy’s.


Tags: Whelan


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