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What Is Pat Leahy Thinking?

patrickleahy.jpgLast week. Sen. Pat Leahy managed to sneak a judicial nominee hearing in under cover of recess, scheduling the hearing on the fly…and reportedly leaving a number of Democratic Senators and their staffers on the committee less-than-pleased at his high-handed tactics on scheduling this.  What is Pat Leahy thinking?

I’m trying to get to the bottom of it.  Here’s what I know:

Catharina Haynes is a former Texas District Court judge who has been nominated by the Bushies to a seat on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals — which covers Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  Every other judge on the Fifth Circuit has been appointed by a Republican president, to a court which used to stand up for civil rights concerns but now sadly rubber stamps Bush Administration gutting of enforcement.  (Can you hear the blistering speech that Barbara Jordan would have given about something like this?)

—  Haynes has a relatively tiny paper trail, leaving not much to be discerned about her judicial temperament, which is likely one of the reasons she was nominated.  That and she’s currently a partner at Baker Botts, after losing re-election to the bench in 2006. 

—  This WH has a pattern of nominating people with relatively tiny paper trails to judicial positions so that public objection potential and real oversight is muted on that basis.  Remember Alito and Roberts, for starters?  But do you think for a moment that the Monica Goodling clones working at the DOJ’s Office of Legal Process haven’t vetted her from stem to stern (the current head of the department was a Larry Silberman clerk)?

— I have heard through the grapevine from sources that Judiciary staffers and several Democratic Senators were not pleased (fuming was one word that I heard) about the high-handed, swift and without consulting colleagues way this hearing was scheduled — because many of the Senators who would have liked to question the nominee were not able to be there due to the quick nature of the hearing being scheduled.

— One of the public rationales for scheduling the hearing is that neither home state Senator objects to the nomination.  Well, call me crazy, but as the two Senators from Texas are Cornyn and Hutchinson, I wasn’t exactly expecting anything beyond a vehement rubber stamp for whatever the Bush Administration wants, were you?

The folks from Alliance for Justice issued the following statement about the hearing and nomination issues last week:

“It is unclear why Judge Haynes was appointed for the second highest court in the land other than her ties to the Republican party,” Aron said. “Since coming into office, the Bush administration has consistently pursued a strategy to politicize our justice system, jeopardizing the rights and liberties of the American people through the appointment of U.S. attorneys, federal judges, immigration judges and the hiring of lawyers at the Department of Justice. The Senate must fight back and make sure every nominee meets the high standards required to maintain an independent and fair judiciary.”

The decisions made by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals directly impact on the lives of millions of Americans in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. “This court has been subject to systematic partisan engineering by ultraconservatives,” noted Aron. “This once-venerated court now is one to be avoided for those asserting their civil rights, raising sexual harassment claims or challenging death penalty sentences,” Aron continued. George W. Bush has already appointed six people to the Fifth Circuit, including five lifetime appointees, almost 1/3 of that bench. Judge Haynes, if confirmed, would fill the final vacancy on this bench and could serve for decades.

Aron concluded, “The time is now to ensure that Americans’ rights and liberties are protected. The Senate must not be complicit in President Bush’s courtpacking plan and must not move forward with Judge Haynes’ nomination.”

I’m trying to track down any other statements from legal organizations — haven’t been able to find one from the ABA as yet. 

What I would like to know is what Pat Leahy was thinking? He has been stung before by criticisms from the GOP.  And coming so soon on the heels of the "Why are my nominees stalled?" WH breakfast, that’s exactly what this looks like.  Is this some STFU ploy aimed at muting the WH from griping about hearings not being held by getting testimony from the nominee while not holding a vote? Is this the first in a series of hearings about the nominee? Why was John Warner included in the hearing, given that he’s not a member of the Judiciary Committee — was this a favor for Warner to have the hearing? Did Jim Baker call in a favor? 

I could keep going…I’ve got a lot of questions, not the least of which is why would the democratic chair of the Judiciary Committee try to aid President Bush in packing the nation’s federal courts in lifetime appointments of ultra-conservatives so close to the end of the Bush Presidency? Am I missing something here, or does that seem less than tactically deft?  Or is this simply a hearing to nowhere, taking testimony but not a vote any time in the near future?  I’ll keep digging…

(You can listen to a streaming recording of the hearing from here.)

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com