A Media Matters for America review of major newspaper coverage of the past two days has found that, with the exception of The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Reuters news service and the San Francisco Chronicle, the print media have largely ignored the White House's rejection of a bipartisan call for greater consultation on federal judicial nominees.
The bipartisan group of 14 senators announced their compromise the evening of May 23. Aside from the portion of the agreement that preserved the filibuster, the agreement also called for President Bush to "return to the early practices" of consulting with senators before making judicial nominations:
We believe that, under Article II, section 2 of the United States Constitution, the word "Advice" speaks to consultation between the Senate and the President with regard to the use of the President's power to make nominations. We encourage the Executive branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration.
Such a return to the early practices of our government may well serve to reduce the rancor that unfortunately accompanies the advice and consent process in the Senate.
In response, White House press secretary Scott McClellan has twice signaled during his daily meetings with the press that Bush has no intention of changing the process by which he submits judicial nominations to the Senate. In the May 24 press gaggle, McClellan said, "we have, we do, and we will continue to consult with the Senate on judicial nominees." The following day, he expanded on this statement during his press briefing: "Well, I mean, the president -- we have -- the White House has and will continue to consult the Senate on judicial nominees. We welcome opportunities to listen to any views they have. But the president is going to continue to move forward on appointing individuals who have a conservative judicial philosophy and believe in interpreting the law, not making law from the bench. And that's what I would expect them to do. That's something he ran on when he first ran for office, and when he ran for re-election, as well."
At least one Republican senator has disputed McClellan's suggestion that the White House has up to now engaged in meaningful consultation with senators before sending nominations to the Senate. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) stated that as a result of the compromise, the "White House is going to get more involved and they are going to listen to us more."
Major newspapers have largely failed to note the White House's rejection of the senators' request. A search of the Nexis and Factiva databases* of major newspapers has found only four news reports that mentioned the White House's reaction:
- Leading Democrats and their allies were highlighting another part of the agreement: what they asserted was a clear signal to President Bush that he needed to engage in ''true consultation and cooperation'' with both parties before naming future court nominees, particularly to the Supreme Court.
Administration officials and their allies pushed back, saying the agreement would have no effect on their powers to pick a nominee. Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said the administration would consult as it always had, signaling that it did not intend to change in any substantive way its method of selecting, vetting and nominating candidates for the federal bench, including the Supreme Court. [The New York Times, 5/25/05]
- White House spokesman Scott McClellan gave no indication that Bush would back down from naming ardent conservatives to the federal judiciary.
McClellan said Bush is "going to continue moving forward on appointing highly qualified individuals to the bench. That's what he has done and that's what he will continue to do." [San Francisco Chronicle, 5/25/05]
- President Bush will pick judges who have a "conservative judicial philosophy," the White House said on Wednesday, in a sign that a bitter fight in the Senate over judicial appointments will erupt again over the selection of new members of the Supreme Court.
The White House gave the first clear indication of Bush's intentions following a Senate compromise this week that ended a lengthy standoff over judicial nominees considered too conservative by Democrats.
"The president is going to continue to move forward on appointing individuals who have a conservative judicial philosophy and believe in interpreting the law, not making law from the bench," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. [Reuters, 5/25/05]
- Administration aides, speaking on condition of anonymity while discussing White House strategy, rejected the suggestions that Bush needed to consult more with the Senate or pick less controversial judicial nominees. "You're not going to see the president change his ideology," one said.
If that means Bush's future nominees divide the parties as sharply as those in the current group, this deal may promise the Senate not a lasting peace but just a break in the battle. [Los Angeles Times, 5/25/05]
*Nexis search was "(McClellan or white house or bush) and (jud! or nomin!) and consult!" from 5/25/04 through 5/26/05 (inclusive) on the "Major Newspapers" database. Factiva search was "(McClellan or white house or bush) and (jud* or nomin*) and consult*" from 5/24/05 to 5/26/05 in Factiva library.