The mood among Republicans inside the Senate Judiciary Committee is bleak as members and staff anticipate the coming of Chairman Leahy. “We know what it’s going to be like,” says one insider. “It will be like it was under Leahy in 2002, when he allowed floor votes on less than half of Bush’s appeals-court nominees. Any smart conservative just isn’t going anywhere now.”
“Our best-case scenario is to send up high-quality, heavily-credentialed nominees who we know are rule-of-law conservatives,” the insider continues. “If we fill the circuit spots with those, and the Democrats kill them all, or kill most of them, it will make it an issue again in 2008.”
And that’s just the courts of appeals. The Supreme Court outlook is even less promising. “All their groups [People for the American Way, Alliance for Justice, NARAL, etc.] know the next Supreme Court nomination will be the be-all, end-all,” the insider says. “The next nominee will tip the Court, and it’s a doomsday scenario for Democrats.” With Chairman Leahy, Democrats will be in an immensely stronger position to block the next Bush nominee.
Finally, behind those worries is a lot of nervousness about the Bush White House. Counsel Harriet Miers continues to play a key role in the selection of nominees, and she inspires little confidence among conservatives in the Judiciary Committee. If the president, with Miers’ advice, were inclined to nominate a mediocre but acceptable-to-Democrats nominee to Supreme Court, that would, in the view of conservatives inside the committee, a) waste a precious high court nomination, and b) render the issue useless in ‘08. “We need to make this an issue again,” the insider says. “Like everything else in politics, if you don’t have the votes, you need political pressure to sharpen the issue.”