Sean Wilentz: Repubs Blocked Far More of Clinton's Judicial Nominations

Roundup: Historians' Take

Sean Wilentz, in a letter to the editor of the NYT (4-29-05):

To the Editor:

Bob Dole contends that the" current obstruction effort of the Democratic leadership" over judicial nominations is"extraordinary."

Yet between 1995, when the Republicans regained control of the Senate, and 2001, the Republican majority blocked 35 percent of President Bill Clinton's nominees to the federal appeals bench without giving them an up-or-down vote. Many did not even receive a hearing.

By contrast, President Bush has, since 2001, nominated 34 candidates to the federal circuit courts, 10 of whom the Democrats have blocked with filibusters - or just under 30 percent.

The Republicans' obstruction of Clinton nominees was much more"extraordinary" than anything since. That obstruction included calculated delays through the use of long-established Senate institutional privileges, including the notorious"blue slip" method favored by Senator Jesse Helms, in which senators can block a judicial nominee from their state.

It is surprising to see Senator Dole, who has spoken eloquently of his love for the Senate, abet the undermining of that institution's historical ability to act as a check and balance on the executive branch.

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Ashley Wayne Cruseturner - 5/18/2005

Big admirer of Professor Wilentz as a scholar, but is 35 percent so much more "extraordinary" than "just less than 30 percent"? Aren't both numbers pretty extraordinary and a break with a tradition of cooperation? Aren't both these recent histories indicative of a disturbing spike in partisan animosity and a diminishing spirit of comity in the upper chamber?

Also, wasn't the obstructionism from the Republicans during the Clinton administration a bit less extraordinary by Professor Wilentz's own definition? He observed that the Republicans made use of "long-established Senate institutional privileges." The filibuster, a long-established weapon of the minority to thwart the will of the majority, had not been used with any regularity, prior to the last session, to derail judicial nominations. Can we not agree that this is an innovative use of the filibuster? It is not "unprecedented," but it is certainly a departure from the traditional way of conducting business.