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Chair in the door

The entire machinery of judicial nominations seems to have ground to a halt under Arlen Specter's leadership

Issue: "Into the light," Dec. 3, 2005

One year ago Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter was campaigning hard for the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He lobbied fellow Republicans and took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal to declare, "I am committed, in word and deed, to prompt action by the Judiciary Committee. Last April, I introduced Senate Resolution 327, a protocol to establish prompt action on all judicial nominees. Specifically, my protocol provides that all nominees will have a Judiciary Committee hearing within 30 days of nomination, a Judiciary Committee vote within 30 days of the hearing, and a floor vote 30 days later."

Many conservatives opposed Mr. Specter, but his promises persuaded his Republican Caucus colleagues that he could be trusted to chair the committee in a manner in keeping with their goals and the promises he had made. Now, his word seems worthless.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the deep freeze given the nomination of White House Staff Secretary Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Mr. Kavanaugh, originally nominated in July 2003, was not blackballed by the infamous Gang of 14 deal this past spring, but he still languishes in Mr. Specter's committee, just as nominee Terrence Boyle languishes on the floor of the Senate.

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The entire machinery of judicial nominations seems to have ground to a halt under Mr. Specter's leadership. The White House demanded December hearings on Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court but Mr. Specter held back, and we'll now see relentless attacks until the hearings open the second week of January. The chairman has also dithered on the Patriot Act extension that representatives of the House and Senate worked out in a mid-November compromise.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has been unable or unwilling to put some pepper into Mr. Specter's management of Judiciary, and together they are garnering for the Senate GOP a reputation for fecklessness that is driving enthusiasm for retaining the Republican majority to all-time lows among center-right activists and contributors. Not surprisingly, Senate Democrats have amassed a more than 2-1 lead in dollars raised for the 2006 cycle.

The man who should be most disappointed by such lassitude is Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who campaigned hard and selflessly for Mr. Specter throughout 2004. Now Mr. Santorum is himself in a difficult fight for reelection, and his colleague's refusal to follow through on last year's promises is hurting that effort and becoming one of the most obvious displays of political ingratitude ever seen in a city known for its double-crosses.

If Mr. Specter doesn't soon remember his pledges of November 2004, then the Republican Caucus should revisit the vote it took in reliance upon those assurances.

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