White House Delights In Rehnquist's Rebuke Of GOP
From CNN White House Correspondent Eileen O'Connor
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics) -- As President Bill Clinton vacationed this week with some golf in the U.S. Virgin Islands, he was treated with a political "gimmie" back in Washington.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a prominent conservative, severely rebuked the GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee for holding up federal judicial nominations made by Clinton.
Administration officials have barely been able to hide their glee that it is a conservative chief justice seemingly siding with the president.
"(Clinton) has sent very moderate, highly qualified nominees to the Senate, and they deserve to be acted upon, not just delayed to death," said White House spokesman Mike McCurry.
In his year-end report on the state of the federal judiciary, Rehnquist noted that 82 out of 846 judgeships -- about one in 10 -- are now vacant. He said that situation cannot continue "without eroding the quality of justice."
However, Clinton did not escape unscathed from Rehnquist's critique. The chief justice criticized the president for taking so long to make nominations for some of those vacant posts.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the chairman of the judiciary committee, insists that half of the vacancies on federal courts are caused either by Clinton's failure to nominate a candidate at all or by his nomination of people who, in the view of the committee, are not qualified.
"When the president nominates people who are not qualified or otherwise controversial, naturally they have a rougher time," Hatch said. "When he doesn't make nominations, which has been the case, naturally they have a rough time."
But the leading Democrat on the committee says the delays in approving judicial nominees result from a deliberate political strategy by the GOP.
"There is a policy within the Republican party to slow down and not allow President Clinton, even though he won the election, to appoint judges," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Of course, when Democrats controlled Congress, nominees of Republican presidents were sometimes held up, too. But it becomes easier for Clinton to make the argument that Republicans are being obstructionist when the staunchly-conservative chief justice publicly agrees with him.