Conservatives took a beating November 7, 2006. The Democratic Party, which had only 44 Senate seats going into the election, managed to gain five more for a total of 49. The Republican Party, on the other hand, lost six seats, trading in their 55-vote control of the Senate for only 49 votes. The remaining two seats were won by liberal independents (Lieberman of Connecticut and Sanders of Vermont), both of whom caucus with the Democrats. Their seats can be chalked up along side Feinstein’s and Schumer’s for a final, 51-49 split; Democratic victory.
The Democrats also gained thirty house seats, which means that for the first time since 1994 the Democratic Party has control of both houses of Congress.
Some of those on the center-right frustrated, for instance, with the GOP for their handling of the war, may be wondering what difference it makes.
Well, quite a bit.
If there is one point on which conservatives can rally around the President, it is his judicial nominations; in particular, his appointments of Sam Alito and John Roberts to the Supreme Court.
Yet, every judicial nominee (District, Appellate, or Supreme Court) has to receive approval from the U.S. Senate. The process is two-fold. First, the nominee must pass the grilling of, and receive a majority vote from, the Senate Judiciary Committee (a panel of 19 Senators from both parties). If approved by the SJC, the candidate is then put to a vote on the Senate floor. Again, he or she must receive a majority vote.
When in the minority (and short of the votes needed to block a candidate from appointment), Democrats are notorious for filibustering the nominee – which delays the process indefinitely, so as to prevent a nominee from ever receiving an up-or-down vote. Cf., Miguel Estrada, Janice Rodgers Brown, Priscilla Owen, William Pryor.
In 2005, it took Republicans threatening to discard the filibuster entirely before Democrats capitulated and allowed judges Owen, Brown and Pryor to receive a Senate floor vote.
But the Democrats are no longer in the minority.
Today Judge Leslie Southwick (nominated for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals) was supposed to receive a long-awaited vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It now appears we will have to wait some more, as Chairman Leahy (D-Vermont) just flexed his Majority-Party-Muscle and delayed the vote on Southwick another week.
In addition to filibustering and brutally smearing nominees (cf., Clarence Thomas, Robert Bork; and who could forget the images of Mrs. Sam Alito weeping and having to leave the room as her husband was being tarred and feathered?) another tactic used by Democrats to keep the judiciary stocked with progressives is to simply delay the nomination process of Republican appointees.
Only three Bush nominees have been approved this year, and there are currently five nominees for 13 vacancies. At this pace, the confirmation rate won’t come close to the 15 (liberal) appeals-court nominees quickly shuffled through by a GOP Senate during Bill Clinton’s last two years in office.
Contrast Clarence Thomas’ narrow approval in 1991 -- a vote of 52-48 -- with Ruth Bader Ginsburg who, nominated by Clinton in 1993, received a 96-3 confirmation vote. While we have to fight tooth-and-nail for a Republican appointee like Thomas or Alito, liberals like Ginsburg and Breyer pass congressional hearings with flying colors and without delay.
It’s business as usual in Washington. The Dems fight dirty, while the GOP plays by the rules.
But perhaps most depressing of all is the defeat conservatives suffered on November 7. Had the GOP lost only one less seat, the situation would be far less tragic. Such a seat could have easily been won in the state of Montana, or Virginia, where the Republican candidate lost by only 3,000 (a 0.5% margin) and 9,000 (a 0.38% margin) votes respectively.
Both races could have easily been won. Alas, a few thousand conservatives were too lazy to mail in their ballots.
What a shame.