The Specter of Next Year's Judiciary Committee
We have discussed the possibility of President Bush or Senator Kerry having the opportunity to nominate several Supreme Court justices in the next four years (in addition to numerous lower federal court judges), but an equally important and interesting question is what will happen in the Senate, the body with the last word on judicial confirmations. In a post last week I linked to Chris's predictions for the make-up of the Senate after November's elections. Although some polls and pundits think there's a chance that the Democrats will take back control of the Senate, Chris (and most others) believes it will remain Republican, albeit still lacking the votes to end any filibuster that may take place.
If the Republicans retain control, we will have a new Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, because Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is completing his eighth and final year as required by party term limits. Next in line is Arlen Specter (R-PA) who is currently coasting to re-election for a fifth term. That prospect makes many Republicans uneasy.
Specter, a moderate Republican, is probably most famous for helping to derail the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court back in 1987 (side note: Bork apparently holds a grudge -- he endorsed Specter's rival, conservative Pat Toomey, in the primaries). Specter is pro-choice, and has repeatedly stated that he supports the Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. Specter has recently become the Justice O'Connor of the Judiciary Committee, casting the crucial swing vote in contentious hearings such as the confirmation of William Pryor. Needless to say, the conservative right is not really excited about the prospect of having Specter deciding who gets a vote and influencing whether and when certain nominees get approved. (By contrast, if Republicans retain control of the Senate and Kerry wins the presidency, we may see a somewhat less hostile process with Specter in control.)
There's not much the Republicans can do, however. As this article notes, their only options are to try to buy out Specter by offering him a chairmanship of another committee, or completely break tradition and award the Judiciary Committee to a less senior member. Neither of these options seem likely. Specter is already a less-than reliable vote for the Republicans, and further angering and alienating him could cause the party some serious problems in a closely-divided Senate.
Bottom line: The presidential race isn't the only thing worth watching this fall if you are interested in future nominations to the federal bench. There will be a lot of fun stuff going on behind the scenes, and NN will be there to keep you informed.