Judiciary

Conservatives Fear ‘Nuclear Option’ Will Die With Loss of Just One GOP Senator

Two dozen conservative activists talked strategy today on the issue of judicial nominees, warning that just one Republican defeat in November would put at risk the GOP’s ability to threaten the so-called "nuclear option" to stop a Democratic filibuster.

Frustrated conservatives have spent the past few months lobbying Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) to act on President Bush’s judicial nominees. Although non-controversial nominees are making their way through the Senate — as Kimberly Ann Moore did yesterday — there is concern about five nominees who have been lingering without action. Bush renominated the "quintet" last week.

Starting tomorrow, conservatives plan to focus their attention on the Judiciary Committee, which has scheduled a hearing featuring several of the controversial nominees. On its agenda are Terrence W. Boyle (4th Circuit), William James Haynes II (4th Circuit), William Gerry Myers III (9th Circuit) and Norman Randy Smith (9th Circuit). Missing is Michael Brunson Wallace (5th Circuit), who was also renominated by Bush last week.

Manuel Miranda, chairman of the Third Branch Conference, said Democrats are certain to obstruct tomorrow when Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) brings up the nominees. This gives conservatives — and Republican candidates — a perfect opening, he said.

Election Issue

There is widespread agreement on the right that the more judicial nominees are in the news, the better off Republicans will do in terms of rallying support with their base. Democrat obstructionism of nominees in 2002 and 2004 has been cited as a factor in the GOP’s electoral gains in the Senate, and the White House has told conservatives that Bush always enjoys the most sustained applause when he talks about judges on the campaign trail.

But with few legislative days left this year and Republicans itching to get back home to campaign, Miranda said he thinks the Senate will be able to act on only two nominees before Election Day. He predicted Smith and Boyle would make it to the Senate floor for votes. Still, he said, that doesn’t mean conservatives should shy away from the issue.

Over the summer, the lack of activity on judicial nominees pitted some conservatives against Frist, who has steadfastly defended his record. The new focus will emphasize Democratic obstructionism and how Democratic gains in November will leave Bush’s nominees vulnerable to Democratic filibusters.

The loss of even one Senate seat would remove the threat of the nuclear option, Miranda said. With four Republicans already opposed to changing Senate procedure — Senators Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and John Warner (Va.) — Miranda said it would be difficult to use the nuclear option as a threat if Republicans did not maintain their 55-seat majority.

Therefore, Miranda urged conservatives to focus their efforts on Democratic candidates such as liberal Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who has repeatedly blocked nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. Republican Mike Bouchard will square off against Stabenow in November.

Miranda also named former congressman and current Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez as a chief obstructionist during the debate over Hispanic nominee Miguel Estrada, who eventually withdrew from consideration for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Although Republican Tom Kean embodies pro-abortion views, Miranda said he would be an upgrade.

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