Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) ripped Senate Democrats on Tuesday for their treatment of President Bush’s judicial nominees, calling their attacks a “partisan campaign of character assassinations.”
Frist’s speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., focused on the state of the judicial confirmation process, which he said had “slowly and steadily deteriorated.” Frist said he was fundamentally dissatisfied with the compromise brokered by seven of his GOP colleagues and seven Democrats because it neglected to assure confirmation votes for all of President Bush’s judicial nominees. However, he said he was pleased to see six nominees win Senate approval.
Frist credited the “unwavering principle” on the part of supporters of judicial fairness for reaching a point where compromise could be brokered, preventing filibusters from becoming “even more routine and even more obstructive.”
“How many future nominees will be willing to put their life on hold for one or two or three or even four years?” Frist said. “How many future nominees will be willing to risk their personal and professional reputations? How many future nominees will be willing to endure the grueling process and then fall victim to the subjectivity of extraordinary circumstances?”
Portraying the tremendous mistreatment of judicial nominees, the majority leader illustrated the case of Miguel Estrada, a former nominee to the D.C. Court of Appeals. Estrada emigrated to the United States from Honduras and, “with a strong heart and a brilliant mind,” worked his way to the highest levels of his profession. Despite becoming an “inspiration to all Americans and all people who aspire … to live the American dream,” Estrada was denied a fair “up-or-down vote” on the Senate floor a record seven times. After two years and more than 100 hours of debate, Frist said, Estrada withdrew his name from consideration to “the detriment of the Senate, … our judicial system … [and] the American people.”
Undeterred by the struggle for fair judicial confirmations, Frist said he looked forward to possible nominees for a potential Supreme Court vacancy, and he hoped for “fair and honest and dignified debates,” that would avoid the excessive influence of special interest groups that “have already geared up” for the impending confirmation struggle.
Frist acknowledged that the White House has been soliciting names and that he had made suggestions to the President and discussed with Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) the possibility of potential nominees but refused to give any specific names.
While expressing regret on the way recent judicial confirmation have been conducted, Frist appeared optimistic that, for now, the “tiger of the filibuster” had been put “back into a cage.” Although he admitted he really wasn’t sure exactly what “extraordinary circumstances” may be under the definition of the Senate compromise plan, he hoped that the spirit of the agreement would hold up under the intense scrutiny it is sure to receive.