Judicial nominations and political war games

June 25, 2008
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Today's post is from IL reporter Michael Hoskins:

Indiana hasn’t gotten any news this week so far in the arena of federal judicial nominations. But what’s happened is worth taking a look at.

The full U.S. Senate Tuesday evening confirmed a controversial Michigan appellate judge to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals based in Cincinnati. Judge Helene White was elected to the Michigan Court of Appeals in 1992. What makes this confirmation historic is that her name has been in the hat for the 6th Circuit for 11 years. That’s not a typo; more than a decade. Her actual nomination came from President Bill Clinton in 1997, but Republicans blocked it and the nomination languished for years. She never received a vote before President George W. Bush withdrew her nomination in 2001. That’s the longest time without a vote for any judicial candidate in Senate history. In legal circles and those watching judicial confirmations, Judge White’s nomination had become a symbol of how partisan politics can influence the judiciary. Angry Democrats and Republicans have been battling since 1997 about this nomination, accusing each other at times of trying to pack the courts to direct rulings to their liking.

Earlier this year, President Bush resubmitted Judge White’s name in exchange for his choices of two other Michigan nominees: attorney Raymond Kethledge to another 6th Circuit vacancy and U.S. attorney Stephen Murphy (who the current president had originally wanted for the 6th Circuit). The three were a package deal.

Of course, nothing that controversial is coming from Hoosier state as it relates to recent and current nominations. That’s the good news. Judge John D. Tinder easily made it to the 7th Circuit last year and Magistrate Judge William T. Lawrence is sailing through the confirmation process since being nominated by President Bush in February. As with Judge Tinder’s confirmation, both Indiana senators – Republican Dick Lugar and Democrat Evan Bayh – came together to smile, shake hands, and say good things about the judicial nominees from their state. The Senate may vote on Magistrate Lawrence’s nomination Thursday and if the recent past is any indication, it’s expected to be a historic, and completely uncontroversial, confirmation.

But in a time when judicial independence is trumpeted by so many at all levels, what does this 6th Circuit political bickering say about politics and the judiciary overall? Practically, delays mean vacancies. That means courts must juggle rising caseloads, and that’s just not good for anyone in the legal system. But how can we talk about judicial independence on one hand and then watch as politicians try to cherry-pick candidates? It seems this can be seen everywhere from the federal level to the state level.
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  • It seems that there always has been, and always will be, political tension in the nomination process, particularly with nominees who have political baggage. As exemplified by Judges Tinder, Hamilton and Lawrence,

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  1. As an adoptive parent, I have to say this situation was as shameful as it gets. While the state government opens its wallet to the Simons and their friends, it denied payments to the most vulnerable in our state. Thanks Mitch!

  2. We as lawyers who have given up the range of First amendment freedom that other people possess, so that we can have a license to practice in the courts of the state and make gobs of money, that we agree to combat the hateful and bigoted discrimination enshrined in the law by democratic majorities, that Law Lord Posner has graciously explained for us....... We must now unhesitatingly condemn the sincerely held religious beliefs of religiously observant Catholics, Muslims, Christians, and Jewish persons alike who yet adhere to Scriptural exhortations concerning sodomites and catamites..... No tolerance will be extended to intolerance, and we must hate the haters most zealously! And in our public explanations of this constitutional garbledygook, when doing the balancing act, we must remember that the state always pushes its finger down on the individualism side of the scale at every turn and at every juncture no matter what the cost to society.....to elevate the values of a minority over the values of the majority is now the defining feature of American "Democracy..." we must remember our role in tricking Americans to think that this is desirable in spite of their own democratically expressed values being trashed. As a secular republic the United States might as well be officially atheist, religious people are now all bigots and will soon be treated with the same contempt that kluckers were in recent times..... The most important thing is that any source of moral authority besides the state be absolutely crushed.

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  4. Hi, Who can I speak to regarding advertising today? Thanks, Gary

  5. Based on several recent Indy Star articles, I would agree that being a case worker would be really hard. You would see the worst of humanity on a daily basis; and when things go wrong guess who gets blamed??!! Not biological parent!! Best of luck to those who entered that line of work.

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