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Will Democrats Take the President to the Bench Over His Judicial Nominees?

Aired May 10, 2001 - 19:30   ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I now submit these nominations in good faith, trusting that good faith will also be extended by the United States Senate.



SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I mean, he can nominate an ultra-right-wing ideologue if he wants, but the Senate will not confirm.


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, the lines are drawn in the Senate over judicial nominations. Should the president get to pick the court he wants, or will Democrats take him to the bench over his nominees?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE: Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way; and Clint Bolick, vice president of the Institute for Justice.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. If you were getting tired of bipartisanship, if you were looking for an old-fashioned congressional dog fight, well, you've got one over judges. President Bush introduced his first 11 nominees yesterday and called on senators of both parties to bury their differences and approve them all. Ain't likely to happen.

Hearings haven't even started yet, but Democrats insist they'll give Bush's nominees the same reception Republicans gave Bill Clinton's. And Republicans accuse Democrats of just playing politics.

On a related matter, Democratic senators have held up confirmation of Ted Olson, President Bush's nominee for solicitor general, over questions about his possible involvement in the Arkansas project: an effort by "American Spectator" magazine to dig up dirt on President Clinton.

And so, the battles begin. Will Bush get the votes for his judicial nominees, and should he? -- Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Ralph Neas, one person we can always count on not to engage in posturing about judges is Barbara Boxer, left-wing Democratic senator from California. She always tell the truth, and why she has blocked her colleague, the esteemed Congressman Christopher Cox of California from even being included in this first batch. Let's listen to her tell the truth.


SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: It's very clear with Chris Cox that he's going to be hostile to the rights of women, workers, hostile to the environment, hostile to reasonable gun laws. And so I've been very honest and open with the White House. I've never danced around it.


NOVAK: Now, Nan Aron of the leftist Alliance for Justice, when President Clinton was president, said the president has the duty to fill judicial vacancies and appoint jurors who share his views. Doesn't Chris Cox share George W. Bush's views?

RALPH NEAS, PRESIDENT, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY: Barbara Boxer is absolutely correct. She knows that President George W. Bush's top priority is to pack the federal judiciary with right-wing ideologues.

What they want over the next several years is to pack the Supreme Court and the lower courts. They want to overturn Roe v. Wade. They want to eliminate environmental protections. They want to eliminate civil rights protections that have been there for 50 or 60 years. They want to eliminate privacy rights. They want to eliminate consumer rights and access to the courts.

This is a revolution that the right-wingers that now control the legal policy mechanisms of the Bush administration -- and especially the judicial selection process. What Nan Aron is saying and what Barbara Boxer is saying is, if they do nominate extreme conservatives, then we have an obligation under the constitution to oppose them.

NOVAK: No, Ralph, what Nan Aron was saying is that the president should name people that share his views. She says that Clinton was naming liberals that share his views. Now, I want you to listen to another senator, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who should know better, I expected better from him, but let's listen to him.


SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: What we're looking for here is we're not looking for ideologues on the bench. We're looking for moderate judges who will conduct their affairs accordingly. We don't want this to be a judiciary jammed and packed with people who've come out of the Federalist Society with extreme views.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NOVAK: Now, can you understand -- I think you are a broad-minded person, that one man's moderate is other man's extremist? That somebody who belongs to the American Civil Liberties Union is an extremist in the eyes of some people -- some people who belong to the People for the American Ways, like you are, is an extremist, and the idea for a liberal to say: "We don't want somebody who belongs to the Federalist Society," isn't that nauseating?

NEAS: You know, Bob, I don't think that the Democrats should play tit-for-tat, because during the Clinton years, believe it or not, Bob, the right-wing Republicans -- Orrin Hatch and Jon Kyl and Jeff Sessions and others -- opposed 36 Clinton circuit court of appeals judges, four times as many as the Democrats opposed during Ronald Reagan's eight years, five time as many federal district court judges. The Republicans played hardball.

What I'm saying is, is that the Democrats should look and see how extreme these people are. I think they are ultra-conservatives. And there is a co-equal responsibility. The president should appoint his own nominees, and they can reflect his philosophy -- and I'm becoming convinced that he is a right-winger, so these are the people that he's...

NOVAK: So is Senator Boxer!

NEAS: So, there is a co-equal constitutional responsibility. If Chris Dodd and Barbara Boxer wants to protect Roe v. Wade, wants to protect the environment, wants to protect civil rights, they should oppose them. What the administration should do is what Clinton did, try to get centrist people who can get a bipartisan consensus.

PRESS: We want get a word in from you here. Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I mean, I must say, I find this -- all this whining already on the part of Novak and everybody else, just totally silly. In fact, starting with what the president said yesterday when he nominated these 11 people. I want to remind people about what expected, he said, from the Senate, again, if we can listen to it quickly.


BUSH: I urge senators of both parties to rise above the bitterness of the past, to provide a fair hearing and a prompt vote to every nominee. That should be the case for no matter who lives in this house, and no matter who controls the Senate.


PRESS: Now, our memories are not that short. So, through various legal maneuvering, the Republicans blocked 167 Bill Clinton nominees, and now they are supposed to roll over and rubber-stamp all of George Bush's? Who you are kidding?

CLINT BOLICK, VICE PRESIDENT, INSTITUTE FOR JUSTICE: Bill, under Bill Clinton, the Republican Senate confirmed 374 judicial nominees, nearly half of the federal judiciary. I don't know whether I'm sitting next to Ralph Neas or the Chicken Little, because for Ralph the sky is always falling. After 12 years of Reagan and Bush judges, we still have Roe v. Wade, we still have Miranda, we still have environmental laws.

And the fact is, if you look at these nominees yesterday, President Bush extended a big olive branch to the Democrats. He consulted with them. Two of the judges he named yesterday were Democrats, and that's a fairly unprecedented thing. He held back on nominees that didn't have the support of home-state Democrats.


BOLICK: Exactly. He has gone the extra mile, and the people he's nominated are superbly qualified, well within the mainstream of American jurisprudence.

PRESS: Well, we will see that. But I'd have to say it's the Democrats who extended an olive branch, maybe unfortunately, to President Bush. They said they're not going to veto all of his nominees, like the Republicans did with Clinton.

They said they're going to consider them case by case, person by person -- in fact, if I can ask you to listen to the same network on Sunday where Senator Dodd was; this was Senator Daschle, Fox News Sunday. And he said just what they're asking for. Please listen.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD) MINORITY LEADER: We're simply saying, "let's use the same procedure that our Republican used -- Republican colleagues have used for the last six years." We simply want to be able to say we've had a chance to assure that these nominees represent excellence, they represent diversity, and they represent moderation.


PRESS: So again...


PRESS: All he is saying is, the senators are going to do their job. Right? How can you object to that?

BOLICK: There was a rush of judgment. We saw Senator Leahy before complaining about right-wing ideology -- we already heard Ralph Neas yesterday say that 9 of the 11 -- that means all except the two democratic nominees -- are extremely conservative. These sorts of things were being said before we even knew who the nominees were.

PRESS: You are squealing before there's even been a vote.

BOLICK: The whining is all on the other side.


NOVAK: We will have to take a break, and when we come back, we will find out why the Senate is holding up Ted Olson.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Democratic senators don't want what they call right-wing judges confirmed. And they're also trying to veto President Bush's choice to be the government's top litigator.

Ted Olson, the president's nominee for solicitor general. He is a conservative and his nomination is stuck in the Judiciary Committee. The Democrats today postponed considering him for another week. Is that the way the system should work? We're asking Ralph Neas, president of the Liberal Organization, People For The American Way; and Clint Bolick, vice president of the Conservative Institute For Justice -- Bill.

PRESS: Clint Bolick, we want to get back to judges here, but just a question about this Ted Olson matter, without dragging it out. There's this Arkansas project, "American Spectator Magazine," money for Richard Mellon Scaife, go down to Arkansas, see what they could dig up on Clinton.

Ted Olson is on the board of directors of the magazine. He said in front of the judiciary committee, he was not involved in the origin or the management of that project. David Brock, who was involved, who wrote the Paula Jones part of that project, said Ted Olson was right in there at the meetings, helping them plan it, very much involved. Big contradiction.

My question to you is: isn't it fair and important to take another week just to find out what the facts are and who is telling the truth?

BOLICK: I'm not sure this is all that big of an issue, regardless of what happened down there. This is the ultimate policy job. Solicitor general of the United States. This is the government's lawyer in court.

I've always thought the president should get the person that he wants for that job, and I don't understand what the big delay is. Ted Olson is extremely well qualified for this job. One way or the other, I think he will be solicitor general. He's going to be a good one.

NOVAK: Ralph Neas, in the interest of full disclosure, I, too, was a member of the board of the "American Spectator." I had a little overlap with Ted Olson. We didn't have any management connection with that project.

But the fact is, that the officer of the court investigated the Arkansas project. There was no law broken. Let's be honest. This is a phony deal that they always try to pick up by using Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas. They don't like Ted Olson, because number one, he's a conservative. And number two, he argued the case in Gore versus Bush in the Supreme Court; that's the truth, isn't it? NEAS: Bob, I have no idea what the facts are that are alleged today. My guess is, if they prove to be nothing, in the next week or two, Ted Olson will be confirmed. The only reason he's been held up so far, before today anyway, because they are tying to work out the procedural fairness issues in the Senate Judiciary Committee. So, I assume that will be all resolved.

One thing that should be made clear, though. Clint said that Roe v. Wade was upheld and there's been no problem during the Reagan-Bush years. The only reason that we still have Roe v. Wade, the only reason we have dozens scores of civil rights protections and environmental protections is because people of American Way, moderate Republicans and Democrats defeated Robert Bork in 1987.


BOLICK: If that hadn't happened, we would have lost Roe v. Wade, and so many other decisions.

PRESS: I want to come back to this judicial thing; this battle now. I must tell you, I have been around here long enough, I shouldn't be surprised at anything. I hear senators say on television, but I still was last Sunday surprised when I heard Orrin Hatch on "Fox News Sunday" accusing Democrats -- I couldn't believe it -- of playing the death watch over Strom Thurmond. Please listen to what Senator Hatch had to say.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: They're hoping they're going to get control if something happens to Senator Thurmond. I bet on Thurmond. He wants to fulfill his contract with the people of South Carolina. I think he will. But let me tell you, it's reprehensible.


PRESS: Now, isn't it really reprehensible to accuse Democrats of playing a death card?

BOLICK: Hey, I think Senator Thurmond will probably run for another term. But really, the media in particular, I think, that Senator Hatch -- I don't know whether Democrats are keeping that close an eye on him. I sure do suspect that everyone in the Senate is keeping a eye on Senator Thurmond's health. But certainly, it's the big buzz around town; an awful lot depends upon it.

PRESS: Exactly. I guess, my follow-up is: isn't the reverse actually the case? That Bush and the Republicans are trying to get as many judges as they confirm while Strom Thurmond is still living. If anybody is playing the death card, they are.

BOLICK: With regard to judges, the fact is Bill, most of Reagan and Bush's judges were confirmed by a Democratic Senate. Most of Clinton's judges were confirmed by a Republican Senate. It is not going to make that much of a difference if we have a 50-50 Senate or a 51/49 Senate. The vast majority of them will get confirmed.

And the reason is that Bush has chosen such exceedingly well qualified people that only ideology -- and that's where Ralph comes in -- only ideology will be a basis for bringing them down.

NOVAK: Let me pick up what Clint says, Ralph, because you have John Roberts, who was turned down by the Senate.

Don't forget the Democratic Senate under Bush I was knocking off judges left and right.

BOLICK: Two of these judges.

NOVAK: Yeah. John Roberts, they wouldn't even give a hearing. He's one of the great appellate lawyers in America. Professor McConnell of the University of Utah, another great appellate lawyer, brilliant appellate lawyer. And then we have the appointment by the president this week that really bothers the left, and that's Miguel Estrada: 40 years old, brilliant, Hispanic-American, Honduran immigrant, couldn't speak a word of English when he came here, a law partner of Ted Olson, very conservative, but a brilliant young man.

Fess up: The only reason you're against him is what he believes, not his competency. Isn't that right?

NEAS: Bob, for the record, let's make it very clear, no Democrat has opposed any one of these nominees. People for the American Way hasn't opposed any one of these nominees. What we've said is this first 11, particularly nine of them, the first step in President Bush's attempt to take over the federal judiciary with right-wing ideologues.

NOVAK: He's president.

NEAS: That's fine. And we have a Senate, and it's a co-equal responsibility with respect to advise and consent. If they are extreme conservatives -- I happen to think they're very conservative -- we may oppose them, and I hope the Senate will, too.

NOVAK: I think we're close to an agreement in what you're after. I think we're close to an agreement.

Can you say right now that you are not contesting Miguel Estrada's competency, Professor McConnell's competency, John Roberts' competency? What you are contesting is what -- whether they believe the same things that President Bush believes.

NEAS: I can't guarantee you that now, because we are exhaustively looking at the record.

NOVAK: I'm disappointed, Ralph.

NEAS: We're looking at judicial philosophy, but we're also...

BOLICK: What Ralph is saying... NEAS: ... looking at -- do they have a demonstrated commitment to equal justice under the law? Are they open-minded? Do they have a temperament? Are they competent?

We don't know the answers.

PRESS: If in fact -- in fact, if Ralph is just looking at their views, what is different? They were three judges appointed by Bill Clinton to the 4th Circuit, North Carolina and those states: Jesse Helms blocked every one of them.

NOVAK: Do you know why?

PRESS: Do you think he blocked them all on the merits? He said they didn't need any more judges. He opposed them just because Bill Clinton nominated them. So why shouldn't Democrats do the same thing?

BOLICK: Well, because if we do that, we are going to have a judicial shutdown. And what Ralph is saying basically is that no conservatives need apply, that if you've got a conservative nominee, they're going to come out against them. And it's their position that the Senate should reject them.

There's been a rush to judgment here. Ralph keeps trying to have it both ways: We're looking at them, but they are really conservative. There's been, I think, an advance judgment made here.

PRESS: Then, guess what, the battle is just starting, because you launched it. Good form tonight. Clint Bolick, thanks for being with us. Ralph Neas, good to have you back.

Bob Novak and I will have our judicial picks when come back, closing comments, right-wingers or left-wingers.


PRESS: Bob, I may surprise you, but I don't think Democrats ought to act like Democrats on this. I think Democrats ought to act like Republicans. In fact, I think they ought to take Jesse Helms as their model. He never looked at the merits. He just opposed anybody appointed in his region, because Bill Clinton did it. Turnabout is fair play.

NOVAK: Bill, people like you just attack Jesse Helms without the facts. Let me tell you what the truth was. His appointment, Terrence Boyle, had not -- had been barred from the Court of Appeals during the first Bush administration, when the Senate was controlled by the Democrats.

He said that he would not approve anybody for the 4th Circuit until President Clinton named Terrence Boyle. He never named him. Now, Boyle is back. So that the people who stole...

PRESS: Well...

NOVAK: Wait a minute! The people who started this, if you listen to me, were the Democrats under the first Bush administration.

PRESS: So you just admitted that Jesse Helms opposed all those people having nothing to do with their merits. It was political games, and I'm saying let's play the same political games now.

NOVAK: No, I'm -- I'm saying the Democrats started it. Don't you listen? Are you hard of hearing? They blocked Boyle, who the chief judge of the district court down there, an excellent jurist. They blocked him for ideological reasons.

PRESS: What goes -- what goes around comes around, Bob?

NOVAK: You started it.


PRESS: I'm -- I'm Bill Press. Me! Good night for CROSSFIRE. See you later on "THE SPIN ROOM."

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE!



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