Monday, January 19, 2004

Random thoughts are likely to come sputtering out today, as I sit at the office and try to reconcile myself to the stack of work before me.

1. Sputtering About Politics.

Dubya chose to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day by using the "recess appointment" process to name Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. You will remember that Pickering was voted down in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then renominated after the 2002 elections. His nomination has been filibustered by Senate Democrats, who chiefly point to the fact that he wrote a law review article supporting miscegenation laws as a law student, and then admittedly violated several canons of judicial conduct to favor a criminal defendant who had burned a cross as a "drunken prank." The "recess appointment" process allows the President to name someone to a vacant position while the Senate is adjourned; that person only serves until the Senate reconvenes. The theory behind recess appointments, of course, is that it's a lot harder to get someone out of office than to block their ascent to office in the first place. During the discussions over the Senate filibuster, the "recess appointment" power was frequently called "going nuclear," as in: "Things are bad now for Dubya's nominees, but he could always try to break the impasse by 'going nuclear.'" That gives you an idea of the level of political discourse at work. If you would like an in-depth analysis and history drafted by the Senate's (theoretically neutral) legal staff, this is an excellent resource.

Dubya's choice is, of course, utterly despicable. He is an un-American coward.

But, to put things in perspective:

- Eisenhower used the long-forgotten practice to put three Supreme Court justices on the bench, which left such a distaste in the body politic that the practice died out.

- That is, until Carter -- yes, Carter of all people -- named a district judge to the bench in Hawaii using the recess appointment power. Carter was a lame duck at the time, and the judge in question served only until the Senate could reconvene. Reagan, naturally, refused to renominate him.

- This gave Dutch Reagan a few ideas, which led to some tense negotiations in the Senate. Bush 41, an old Senate man himself (and consummate politician) considered the option but backed down.

- Clinton "went nuclear" at the end of his administration when, as a lame duck, he named Roger Gregory to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Gregory's nomination had been stalled for several months, and should be seen as part of a larger press by the Clinton administration to put the very first African-American judge on the Fourth Circuit, which covers Maryland, the Carolinas, and the Virginias. As soon as he seized office, Dubya withdrew Gregory's nomination, but renominated him when both Republican Senators from his home state insisted that he do it.

So, to be clear: Dubya is a despicable coward. So were Clinton, and Reagan, and Carter, but that doesn't excuse Dubya. If all the other presidents pissed on the dignity of the American people, would you do it too?

Afterthought: I got a one-a-day calendar called "Presidential Misspeak," which collects Dubya's various gaffes. I have found it to be extremely irritating, though. It has predominantly been nothing more than a collection of grammatical tangles -- the "put food on your family" ilk -- that avoid the much more serious, deadly statements that fall out of his mouth. For a much better list of Dubya's wacky misstatements, try Helen Thomas's run-down of 2003.

 10:53 AM

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