Strom's Last Word: Leahy Lied

In what was probably his last speech on the Senate floor, Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina last Wednesday brought an end to his storied 48-year Senate career by calling Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.) a liar.

Thurmond’s ire was sparked by Leahy’s broken promise to send the appeals court nomination of Federal District Judge Dennis Shedd to full the Senate for confirmation. Shedd served as the staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Thurmond was the committee’s chairman.

"I was hurt and disappointed by this egregious act of destructive politics," said Thurmond. "Chairman Leahy assured me on numerous occasions that Judge Shedd would be given a vote. I took him at his word."

By canceling an October 8 committee vote on the nomination of Shedd to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, Leahy not only failed to keep a promise, but also reneged on a private deal he had made with Senate Republicans-a deal which they had already honored by voting with Leahy for a procedural motion on a bill he considered important.

Although no senators would speak for the record, three Senate sources told HUMAN EVENTS that Leahy had reneged on a deal made with Judiciary Republicans in which they supported his bill to re-authorize the Department of Justice.

Republican senators assailed Leahy’s action as dishonest and a vicious a slap in the face to the retiring Thurmond, who sponsored the South Carolina judge’s nomination. Thurmond, who will turn 100 on December 5, made rare public appearances to denounce Leahy, first in committee and then on the Senate floor.

"I am hurt and disappointed by your action," said the frail senator in a committee meeting on October 8. "You have repeatedly stated that Judge Shedd would be given a vote today. I took you at your word. In my 48 years in the United States Senate, I have never been treated in such a manner."

David Carle, a spokesman for Leahy, denied the senator had reneged on a deal, instead blaming Republicans for earlier moving to limit the length of all committee meetings while the Senate debates war with Iraq. The committee, he said, could not adequately debate Shedd’s nomination because of a "two-hour rule," which any committee member could have invoked if the meeting exceeded that amount of time. He said that if the committee had debated Shedd’s nomination, there would not have been time for votes on 17 "non-controversial" district court nominees, who all passed unanimously.

However, there was enough time at the October 8 meeting for angry speeches and procedural motions by Republican Senators Orrin Hatch (Utah), Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Thurmond once it was clear Shedd would not get a vote. There was also time for a procedural vote in which committee Democrats blocked a vote on Shedd.

Democratic Sen. Fritz Hollings (D.-S.C.)-who also supports Shedd’s nomination-was asked Wednesday whether he accepted the reasoning that the committee lacked sufficient time to vote on Shedd. "I don’t accept anything-I’m mad," said Hollings. He would not comment further.

Not only had Shedd previously worked for the committee-so that many members were already familiar with him-he had also had a confirmation hearing before the committee in late June, giving committee members months to study and consider his nomination.

Hill Republicans say Democrats are opposing Shedd to satisfy their special interest supporters. Over 100 letters have been sent to the committee in opposition to Shedd’s nomination on the grounds that he rules too often against plaintiffs in civil rights cases or is insensitive to racial concerns. Almost all of the letters are from Washington, D.C.-based special-interest groups such as the ones that helped Democrats torpedo the nominations of Charles Pickering and Priscilla Owen earlier this year. The national NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus are among those opposing Shedd.

People for the American Way (PFAW), a left-wing group that has compiled negative dossiers on other Bush nominees, did not return calls about Judge Shedd to HUMAN EVENTS. PFAW’s President, Ralph Neas, was spotted roaming the Senate side of the Capitol Wednesday. Neas enjoys a privileged status with Senate Democrats, often sitting with Leahy’s staff behind the dais during contentious judicial confirmation hearings.

Carle, Leahy’s spokesman, said the Judiciary Committee has now held hearings and votes on 100 nominees in the last 15 months-98 of whom have been approved-and argued that this record is better than that of the Republican Senate under President Bill Clinton. However, the committee has approved only 14 circuit court nominees, and will probably let 16 others go without a vote as Congress ends its 107th session.

Carle added, "[I]t remains [Leahy’s] intention to bring the Shedd nomination to a vote." Asked why Leahy would, in that case, pull Shedd from the agenda the night before what was expected to be the last committee meeting of this session, the spokesman repeated, "It remains his intention to bring the Shedd nomination to a vote." He would not say whether the committee will hold another meeting this year, citing uncertainty about when Congress will adjourn.

Republican senators sent a letter to Leahy last week requesting another meeting. If Shedd is not approved before the year’s end, his nomination from last May will become null, although Bush could re-nominate him in the next Congress.

Leahy had originally promised in July that there would be a vote on Shedd this session. At a July 31 committee meeting, he said, in response to a question by Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.), that he had made an agreement with Thurmond’s chief of staff, Duke Short, regarding Shedd’s nomination.

Thurmond’s spokeswoman told HUMAN EVENTS that the agreement he was referring to was that Shedd’s nomination would be on the agenda in the first committee meeting after the August recess.

But when Shedd’s name did not appear on the agenda for that early September meeting, Leahy promised again that Shedd would be on the agenda for the next meeting, held September 19. He made good this time and Shedd appeared on the agenda, but one of the senators on the committee held up the nomination until the following meeting, to be held October 3-a common move under committee rules.

Because a vote was scheduled October 3 on a cloture motion for Leahy’s bill-the so-called "21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act" (H.R. 2215), one of Leahy’s personal legislative priorities-Leahy postponed the meeting until October 8. He used the time in between to secure Republican support for the cloture motion by making a private deal with Republicans on the committee, Senate sources say.

In exchange for Republican support of the cloture motion on October 3, Leahy promised a vote on Shedd in the upcoming October 8 hearing. After the deal was made, the cloture motion sailed through the Senate by a vote of 93 to 5, without serious Republican resistance. All Judiciary Republicans voted in favor except for Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah), who did not vote.

Then, after 5 p.m. on the night before the October 8 committee meeting, Thurmond learned that Shedd had been removed from the agenda, apparently in contravention of committee rules. Under the committee’s rules, a member may hold over a nomination scheduled for a vote, but only until the next meeting. Leahy nullified the rule by declaring out of order Hatch’s motion to proceed with the Shedd vote. Nine of the committee’s ten Democrats then voted to uphold Leahy’s declaration, overriding the committee’s longstanding rules.

Republicans expressed outrage that Shedd had been denied even a vote, contrary to Leahy’s word and the deal he had struck. "We believe that unless we can change the makeup of the Senate, this is going to continue, this type of cheap politics, and I think this type of dysfunctional Senate," said Hatch.

"The President is madder than Hell," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.). "And the situation has gotten so bad. . .I think that’s going to resonate in a lot of states this year to produce a Republican-controlled Senate since the Democrats will not confirm judges."

Senate Minority Whip Don Nickles (R.-Okla.) told HUMAN EVENTS that Leahy’s broken promise was "a real slight," and would not help the Senate’s tone in an already rancorous Congress. "The traditions of the Senate are just being turned upside-down," he said. "Whatever happened to a little collegial atmosphere in confirming judges?"

"The ability of the Senate to function depends on senators’ ability to take each other at their word," said a senior GOP leadership aide. "The fact that a senator has broken his word sends a ripple effect into the way the U.S. Senate will function for years to come."

Asked how Republicans will respond, the aide told HUMAN EVENTS that the Senate’s general failure to pass anything made it difficult to find a spot to hit back at. "Right now, there are no hostages to take," he said. He added, "When we get back the majority, there will be consequences."


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