Just as justice and the justice system grow ever more mutually exclusive, so does justice and the U.S. Senate’s judicial confirmation process. Senate Democrats have gone to extraordinary lengths to block nominees whose judicial philosophies or whose personal religious beliefs they find unacceptable. They have large public-interest and “civil rights” groups on their side with budgets in the tens of millions of dollars while conservatives have a few small projects on theirs. One of these is the Committee for Justice, trying to restore the object term in its name to the judicial confirmation process.
“The Committee for Justice is a group of eminent leaders, former government officials, legal scholars, and practitioners based in Washington, D.C., that seeks to defend and promote constitutionalist judicial nominees to the federal courts,” says the group’s website. “CFJ was founded in 2002 by former White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray, the group’s chairman. Constitutionalists believe a judge’s proper role is as neutral interpreter of established law, not as pioneer of new law or social policy through judicial activism. As former Sen. Sam Ervin [D.-N.C.] said: ‘A judicial activist is a judge who interprets the Constitution to mean what it would have said if he, instead of the Founding Fathers, had written it.'”
CFJ Executive Director Sean Rushton said that the treatment of Judge Charles Pickering led to the founding of the group. Democrats targeted the Mississippi federal judge for character assassination and defeat after President Bush nominated him to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“This is a sitting district judge. This is a man with unanimous Senate confirmation in the past,” said Rushton. “It kind of signaled, the gloves are off here.”
Democrats have abused the legislative minority’s privilege of the filibuster, blocking votes on several of Bush’s nominees indefinitely because they oppose liberals’ use of the courts for legislating tyranny from the bench. Though most, if not all, of these nominees have enough votes to be confirmed, it takes 60 out of the Senate’s 100 votes to end a filibuster. Republicans have 51 seats in the Senate. According to CFJ, Democrats have blocked 19 of Bush’s qualified nominees one way or the other.
But two of those have made it onto the bench anyway, through the President’s recess appointment power. Pickering and now Alabama Atty. Gen. Bill Pryor have been given such appointments, but unlike judges confirmed by the Senate, they will not serve for life but only until the end of the next congressional session after their appointments.
Said Gray in a statement on February 20: “Pryor was harshly attacked by Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats for his deeply held beliefs–code, many believed, for his traditional Catholicism–and derided as unable to distinguish between the law and his personal views. Yet the evidence was overwhelming: prior to his nomination, when interpreting Roe v. Wade, and after his nomination, when he prosecuted and removed Judge Roy Moore for placing the Ten Commandments in a public building, Bill Pryor has shown that he understands the line between the role of law enforcement versus advocate or politician.”
Rushton said that getting constitutionalist judges onto the bench was the way to stop judicial activism, but it takes more than a commitment by the President. “It begins with having a real debate and real discussion on this issue,” he said. “Educating the public is a key part of what we’re doing.” To that end, CFJ runs ads supporting floor votes for Bush’s nominees and lambasting those who oppose giving the Senate the opportunity to decide. “We also serve as a clearinghouse for information,” said Rushton.
Asked for a comprehensive solution to the judicial activism problem, he replied, “The first comprehensive solution is an educated citizenry on guard against judicial activism. . . . To the extent it’s appropriate, impeachment should be considered.” Not only social conservatives, particularly incensed by the courts’ penchant for imposing revolutionary anti-religious and anti-traditional values policies, should care about judicial activism, he said. “Whether you’re a social conservative or a libertarian or someone in business, this should interest you and make you want to support a group like ours,” he said. For businessmen, “class action lawsuits, property rights, environmental regulations” are among the areas abused by “lawless activist judges,” he said.
Though judicial activism has been a problem for decades, it has gotten markedly worse in recent years. “We now have a free-flowing, free-form stream of judicial activism. . .,” said Rushton. “Our system of government could be threatened. It’s like Ben Franklin said: ‘It’s a republic, if you can keep it.'”
CFJ may be reached at 1275 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., 10th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20004 (202-481-6850; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.committeeforjustice.org).