Sacrificing Saad on the Altar of Political Cowardice

Even the best of men can take just so much. No nominee should expect that "his side" is going to hang him up as a political piñata and stand by while partisan hacks flail away at him. But that’s what happened to Judge Henry Saad.

Yesterday, the White House announced that the President had received a letter March 22 from Saad announcing the withdrawal of his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. After patiently waiting nearly four and a half years since his nomination November 8, 2001, Saad was left twisting in the purgatorial wind of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Every American who wants good judges on the federal bench should be distressed and angered at Republicans and Democrats who failed to stand up to the worst kind of political grudges and hatchetry. They have failed Judge Saad and us.

Why did they let this good judge get away? Here’s a small part of the White House statement about Judge Saad:

  • Judge Henry Saad is an outstanding jurist with nearly a decade of experience on the state court of appeals.
  • Judge Saad has sat on the Michigan Court of Appeals since 1994, having been reelected twice with broad bi-partisan support. The American Bar Association rated Judge Saad "Qualified."
  • Judge Saad has significant appellate experience in both civil and criminal matters, and has authored over 75 published majority opinions.
  • President George H.W. Bush first nominated Judge Saad to the federal bench in 1992, but the Democratic Senate failed to act on his nomination (and one other in Michigan) prior to the end of President Bush’s term. Judge Saad nevertheless urged the confirmation of nominees of President Clinton to the Michigan federal courts.
  • The seat to which Judge Saad has been nominated has been deemed a judicial emergency.
  • Judge Saad was born in Detroit and is a life-long resident of Michigan. He would be the first Arab-American appointee to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
  • "[Bush’s nomination of Saad in the wake of the September 11 attacks] conveys an important message to all the citizens and residents of this country that we embrace and welcome diversity and that we are extending the American dream to anyone who is prepared to work hard." U.S. District Judge George Steeh, III, an Arab-American Clinton appointee in Michigan. "Three Nominated by Bush to Appeals Court,” Detroit Free Press, November 9, 2001.
  • Judge Saad was a Board Member of the Greater Detroit Inter-Faith Roundtable of the National Conference of Christians and Jews and a member of the Executive Committee of the American Arabic and Jewish Friends. He also served on the Board of the American Heart Association and as a trustee of the WTVS Channel 56 Educational Television Foundation.

It boils down to political grudges. The "Gang of 14" agreement reached last May made no commitment to ending the filibuster blocking Saad’s nomination. Democratic Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) blocked Saad but not because he isn’t qualified.

Levin is still mad because when President Bill Clinton nominated a cousin of Levin’s wife to the 6th Circuit, she wasn’t given a hearing by the SJC. Stabenow got ticked after somebody forwarded a private e-mail that Judge Saad had sent to a friend expressing criticism of Stabenow for blocking his nomination. And this comes from a woman who denounced the administration while standing on the Senate floor next to a sign reading "Dangerously Incompetent." Some temperament.

Worst of all, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) snidely attacked Saad’s character and reputation by implying that there was something damaging in his FBI file. Saad had been through four FBI background checks after being nominated twice each by President George H. W. Bush and the current President. Surely, if there had been a problem, neither White House would have sent the nomination on to the Senate. Reid’s comment was an obvious attempt to smear an Arab-American in a post 9-ll environment.

Republican leadership in the Senate and White House barely whimpered a defense of Saad. It was becoming clearer with each passing, do-nothing day that "his side" wasn’t going to stand up to Reid, Levin, Stabenow and company and move Saad’s nomination.

You’d think that since Stabenow is up for reelection in Michigan, politicians would see an advantage in forcing her to confront Saad’s nomination while facing Michigan voters, which just happen to include the largest Arab population of all the states.

You’d think that just coming off two great victories that seated John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court, Republicans would still have some adrenalin rush. You’d think that they had learned that their base and the majority of the American people would continue to back them in more strong and principled fights to accomplish what the administration had promised in two elections — putting good judges on the federal courts. This is why politicians should never be allowed to run a war.

Somebody should remind Senate leadership every day to go to a window and look across the street to the Supreme Court. Maybe elephants don’t have long memories after all. Voters do.