Politics & Policy

Benchless

Arlen Specter keeps a qualified judge off the federal bench.

It has been almost a year since President Bush nominated Arkansas lawyer Leon Holmes to the federal bench. Since that time, he has had a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but his nomination remains stalled.

Holmes enjoys the support of his two home senators, Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. Even with their support, however, some Senate Democrats were uneasy with Holmes. Sen. Charles Schumer, the hard-core liberal New York Democrat, railed against Holmes, but those attacks began to subside last year. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle has said the Holmes nomination wouldn’t be filibustered by Democrats.

So what is the problem?

It is liberal Republicans who have put Holmes in their sights with hope of stopping his nomination. Word is that Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter–who, if reelected, will likely be Judiciary Committee chairman next session–continues to lead the charge against Holmes’s nomination. He is not alone. Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine, continue to stand between Holmes and his vote on the Senate floor.

What has made Specter’s opposition especially interesting is that he is locked in a tough primary with conservative Rep. Patrick Toomey. Late last year, it looked like Toomey might enjoy support of the White House and noted conservative Republican and fellow Pennsylvanian, Sen. Rick Santorum, because of Specter’s shenanigans with Holmes and other conservative policy initiatives.

But that did not pan out for Toomey. Both the White House and Santorum have voiced support for Specter out of concern for keeping the Senate in the GOP column.

A recent poll taken by Quinnipiac University put Toomey 15 points behind Specter, but only weeks ago Specter enjoyed a 30-point lead his over his opponent. Why the shift?

Toomey and his support groups have begun to tell the truth about Specter’s voting record. Toomey’s ads against Specter look more like the political spots President Bush is running against Sen. John Kerry than ads in an party primary race.

In the ads, Toomey criticizes his opponent for supporting “five of the largest tax increases in history.” The Club for Growth didn’t bother with subtly insinuating the likeness between Kerry and Specter. The group’s ad highlighted the two men’s similarities by claiming that “nearly 70 percent of the time Specter and Kerry voted the same way,” and “that makes Arlen Specter 100 percent too liberal.”

Pennsylvania conservatives will have a hard time supporting a Republican who supports tax increases, but some observers purport that the argument that may win it for Specter is that his nomination and subsequent election will help keep the GOP in power. President Bush is in Pennsylvania Monday to campaign for Specter; in these final days of the campaign, leading up to the April 27 primary, Toomey should step up his attacks.

Toomey needs to highlight the numerous news reports which pin the Holmes’s nomination delay on his opponent. Specter would be put on the spot: he’d either be forced to admit and explain his opposition to Holmes, or he’d deny that he’s been an impediment to one of President Bush’s nominees.

Toomey, who needs to continue to emphasize the differences between Specter and himself as primary day nears, should call on Specter to support Holmes’s nomination by insisting on a Senate vote. Leon Holmes deserves to be a federal judge. For that to happen, his nomination may have to become a political issue in Pennsylvania.

David J. Sanders is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau.

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