Politics & Policy

Stalling Judge Conrad

The ongoing obstruction of President Bush’s nomination of Robert J. Conrad Jr. to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit presents a stark picture of the extremism of Senate Democrats.

Nominated in July 2007, Conrad is a model candidate who has twice been confirmed by the Senate to other positions. A longtime federal prosecutor in North Carolina, Conrad served as U.S. Attorney from 2001 to 2004. He became a federal district judge in North Carolina in 2005 and is now chief judge of his court.

By the very standards that Senate Democrats have expounded, Conrad ought to have been readily confirmed. He has the strong support of both North Carolina senators — Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr — and the ABA unanimously gave him its highest “well qualified” rating. The Judicial Conference of the United States has declared the vacancy to which he has been nominated a “judicial emergency.”

Conrad is, by all accounts, a man of sterling character and integrity. In 1999, then-Attorney General Janet Reno selected him for the highly sensitive role of chief of the Justice Department’s Campaign Finance Task Force, which investigated Al Gore’s fundraising activities. In a Senate press conference last week, Conrad’s diverse set of supporters included an African-American former gang member whom he has mentored off the streets.

Despite all this, nearly a year after his nomination, Conrad has still not received a hearing from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Why are Senate Democrats obstructing Conrad’s confirmation? The short answer: Because they believe they can do so without paying a political price.

The longer answer is twofold. First, Conrad is a devout Catholic who, two decades ago, in his private life criticized a nun for “the near total contempt [she] displayed for the Roman Catholic Church.” Committee chairman Patrick Leahy has somehow twisted Conrad’s defense of his church into a wild claim that Conrad made “anti-Catholic comments.” No one has ever alleged that Conrad’s faith has interfered with his fulfillment of his duties of public service. What the Left evidently fears, instead, is that he won’t impose its agenda from the bench.

Second, the Fourth Circuit, which covers Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, has four vacancies among its 15 seats. A longtime stronghold of judicial conservatives, the Fourth Circuit is now in play. In the event that Barack Obama is elected president, Senate Democrats hope to deliver it into liberal hands.

North Carolina, the most populous of the states in the Fourth Circuit, has only one judge on the court. Senators Dole and Burr therefore have special cause to continue to press hard for Conrad’s confirmation.

But the stakes are larger than North Carolina and larger than the Fourth Circuit. Senate Republicans need to make Democrats know that they’ll pay a price for their obstruction, both now and whenever there is next a Democratic president.


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