In an interview on the August 21 broadcast of CBS' Face the Nation, Washington Post staff writer Mike Allen characterized any rigorous scrutiny by Senate Democrats of Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. as an attempt "to pacify [the party's] liberal base." Allen suggested that Democrats would use the Roberts nomination to "show they have spine," to please "the [liberal] groups that are trying to raise money off this." Media Matters for America has previously noted that in a July 3 Washington Post article, written before the Roberts nomination, Allen suggested that Democratic questioning of a Supreme Court nominee would preclude dignified and respectful Senate hearings.
But there are other reasons, apart from pacifying their liberal base, why Democrats might seek to scrutinize Roberts's record. The Constitution, for example, mandates an advice and consent role for the Senate in the appointment of judicial nominees, a responsibility recognized by Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), who has promised "extensive hearings" on Roberts's nomination. In a July 20 floor statement, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, stated that the Senate "must fulfill its constitutionally mandated duty to ensure that those who receive lifetime appointments to our highest court will protect the rights and liberties of all Americans, uphold our Constitution and our laws, and be impartial in their judicial approach." Leahy added, "[t]o fulfill our constitutional duties, we need to consider this nomination as thoroughly and carefully as the American people deserve." Regarding the Senate's role in the judicial confirmation process, Leahy stated, "The Constitution calls on the Senate carefully to examine nominations to the courts, not to rubber stamp them."
Allen's comment echoed accusations by Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, who on the August 18 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews chastised Democrats for allegedly using the Roberts nomination as an opportunity to appeal to liberal activists. Mehlman stated: "I think that the Democrats need to remember that they represent the American people, not the fringe hard left. And MoveOn may not like it, but most of their constituents understand this is an impartial affair and a great choice by the president."
In an August 5 speech, Mehlman claimed that some Democrats "want to turn a judicial confirmation into a political campaign." The New York Times reported on August 6 that Mehlman accused Democrats of treating the Roberts nomination as a "political game," using it as an occasion to appeal to financial donors.
From Allen's interview with CBS chief White House correspondent John Roberts on the August 21 broadcast of CBS' Face the Nation:
ROBERTS: So, Mike Allen, what are you expecting when the confirmation hearings start?
ALLEN: Well, John, I can tell you that Republicans are relieved that as Americans come back from Labor Day, the debate is likely to be about John Roberts and about the Reagan administration rather than Iraq. They are convinced that the more Democrats talk about what happened 20 years ago, the better off Republicans are going to be.
Now, Republicans have set sort of a trap for Democrats. Democrats are in the tough spot of having to show that they have spine and yet not be obstructionists. And so you'll see Republicans out there saying, "We put out 60,000 pages of documents," and [New York Times correspondent and fellow guest] Anne [E. Kornblut] was talking about some of the great stuff in there. There's one where he corrects President Reagan's conversion of Fahrenheit to Celsius. So you get a little behind-the-scenes look at the staffing process there, but the problem for Democrats is: How much bad money do they throw after good? No one thinks that he's going to get less than 70 votes. Republicans think it might be more than 80. So how much do you go out on a limb to pacify your liberal base, the groups that are trying to raise money off this?