Today on NBC News’ "Meet the Press," host Tim Russert boxed liberal Sen. Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.) into a corner over Schumer’s opposition to Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.
Russert reminded Schumer of a letter he wrote to President Bush in 2001 that said: "The ABA evaluation has been the gold standard by which judicial candidates are judged…"
He then said to Schumer: "And now we have this from the ABA: ‘Samuel A. Alito Jr. (nominated 11/10/05), to be an associate justice to the U.S. Supreme Court. Rating: `Well qualified’ by unanimous vote of the standing committee’ of the ABA. It’s the gold standard. He’s rated well qualified. Game, set, match."
Schumer, of course, tried to find a way to weasel his way out answering.
"Not quite, Tim. Don’t push it. Not that fast," Schumer replied. "Let me say this: The bar association is the gold standard for the two things they measure, competence — in other words, their qualifications — and their judicial temperament. Judge Alito certainly has a judicial temperament. He went to I think it is Princeton — Right? — Yale Law School. Very bright man. That’s all the bar association judges. The most important qualification for a judge–and I made this argument in 2001 as well — and that is their judicial philosophy. They have enormous power in this lifetime appointment to be a Supreme Court justice. How are they going to use it? Are they going to follow the law or are they going to impose their views on the American people in a very ideological way? And judges at the extreme far right, far left, tend to do that.
"The big outstanding question about Judge Alito is the third question. So no one disputes his legal education, the experience he’s had. It’s been very good. No one disputes that he has judicial temperament. There’s a great deal of question on his judicial philosophy. He has said some very, very, very extreme things throughout his career, both when he worked for Ronald Reagan and as a judge."
Without so much as calling Schumer a hypocrite, Russert turned to the issue of Republican senators’ supporting two liberal justices appointed by President Clinton.
Russert asked: "But here’s the situation, as many people see it. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg was put forward by Bill Clinton, she had been general counsel for the ACLU. Steven Breyer has worked for Ted Kennedy, and yet they were overwhelmingly confirmed because they had competence and temperament, as you say.
"And even though they had a more liberal, judicial philosophy than many members of the Senate, it was a Democratic president who had the right to make that nomination. If, in fact, Republicans supported Ginsburg and Breyer, why shouldn’t Democrats support Alito, who has been rated well qualified, the gold standard of the ABA, and whose philosophy may be conservative, but is no more conservative than Ginsburg and Breyer were liberal?"
Schumer’s reply: "Well, that’s the $64,000 question. If Alito is within the judicial mainstream, as everyone conceded that Breyer and Ginsburg were — most people didn’t think Breyer was much of a liberal. They thought he was a moderate. If he is within the mainstream, even if he’s a conservative, he will be approved. Some people may vote against him, because they say ‘He’s not my philosophy,’ but there will be no attempt to block him.
"That’s what happened with John Roberts. Clearly, I don’t agree with John Roberts’ judicial philosophy or views. I voted against him because he didn’t answer every question that I thought — or the questions in a full way that I think nominees have an obligation to be."
At this point, Schumer finds a way to change the subject.
"But look at Alito. Let me just go over a few things that he’s said and done in his career. He was one of the very few justices to say that the federal government can’t regulate machine guns. Federal government has regulated machine guns since the days of John Dillinger in 1936. He…"
Russert at this point goes on to question Schumer about Alito’s rulings. But two very important points were made during their Q&A this morning.
1) Schumer and Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called the ABA rating the "gold standard." Now that Alito has been rated "well-qualified" by the ABA, Schumer wants to put qualifiers around it. That won’t work. The American people, and Schumer’s New York constituents, aren’t that stupid.
2) Clinton-appointed justices Ginsburg and Breyer were considered liberals by conservatives, whether Schumer wants to admit that or not. The majority of Republicans, however, recognized that it was Clinton’s choice to name liberal nominees to the court. The question of a filibuster wasn’t even an issue as it is today with Democrats.
By the way, just to set the record straight, three Republicans voted against Ginsburg: Senators Jesse Helms (N.C.), Don Nickles (Okla.) and Bob Smith (N.H.). And nine Republicans voted against Breyer: Senators Conrad Burns (Mont.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Paul Coverdell (Ga.), Jesse Helms (N.C.), Trent Lott (Miss.), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Frank Murkowski (Alaska), Don Nickles (Okla.) and Bob Smith (N.H.).