Efforts by Bush administration supporters to persuade the mainstream media that any action taken by Senate Democrats short of complete acquiescence to a Bush Supreme Court nomination constitutes obstructionism are already bearing fruit. A July 3 Washington Post article by staff writer Mike Allen offers a good example. Within a few paragraphs, Allen (1) suggested that Democrats' questioning nominees on specific issues is inimical to the "dignity and respect" with which Republicans purportedly would like to see confirmation hearings conducted and (2) wrote without basis or elaboration that Democrats have "called for an unprecedented amount of consultation with the White House before the announcement of a nominee."
From the article titled "Parties Line Up Strategies for Hearings on Nomination":
Lawmakers and aides said leaders are conscious of the poor image of Congress in recent polls and are determined to avoid having the two to three days of nationally televised hearings come off like a trial. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) appealed for hearings marked by "dignity and respect."
That does not appear likely. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on courts, said an effort to choke off inquiries about specific issues would fail because Democrats believe they have "an obligation to our country and the Constitution to thoroughly vet the nominee."
Allen appears not to have asked Schumer, but had he done so, it seems likely that the senator would have affirmed his commitment to "dignity and respect" for the nominee, regardless of the content of the questions. In fact, when he appeared on the July 3 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Schumer said: "I think it's a dereliction of our responsibilities if we don't ask these kind of questions. No, be respectful, be dignified, for sure. To take one person's writings 30 years ago and say that disqualifies them, that's wrong. But to then just say, 'OK, tell us your -- where you went to law school and what your career was and have you ever broken the law?' and you're on the Supreme Court? No way."
As for Allen's second claim -- that the Democrats' calls for consultation with the White House on the nomination are "unprecedented" -- Allen need look no further than the memoir of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Hatch wrote that not only did President Clinton consult with him as the ranking Republican on the committee (the Republicans were in the minority at the time), but Clinton actually nominated the two judges Hatch recommended for vacancies on the Supreme Court created by the retirements of justices Byron R. White and Harry A. Blackmun -- then-D.C. Circuit judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg and then-First Circuit judge Steven Breyer. In his 2002 memoir Square Peg: Confessions of a Citizen Senator (Basic Books, 2002), Hatch recounted the conversation in which he recommended both Ginsburg and Breyer to Clinton:
Our conversation moved to other potential candidates. I asked whether he had considered Judge Stephen Breyer of the First Circuit Court of Appeals or Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg [sic] of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. President Clinton indicated that he had heard Breyer's name but had not thought about Judge Ginsberg.
I indicated I thought they would be confirmed easily. I knew them both and believed that, while liberal, they were highly honest and capable jurists and their confirmation would not embarrass the President. From my perspective, they were far better than the other likely candidates from a liberal Democratic Administration.
In the end President Clinton did not select [Interior] Secretary [Bruce] Babbitt. Instead, he nominated Judge Ginsberg [sic] and Judge Breyer a year later, when Harry Blackmun retired from the court. Both were confirmed with relative ease. [p. 180]