Contrary to popular belief, it's rare to catch a politician in a moment of perfect hypocrisy. But the ongoing Senate fight over George W. Bush's nominees to the federal bench is providing many such opportunities. "You don't get absolute power to utilize your own personal prejudice without any justification to block even a consideration of a nominee," Republican Jeff Sessions complained last week. "Is there anyone here that thinks it was not a good government initiative to remove the power of a single senator [to] just block someone without any chance of review?"
To say that Sessions is a late convert to the cause of good government would be an understatement. Along with Jesse Helms and Bob Smith, Sessions is one of the Senate's ablest practitioners of, well, blocking even the consideration of a nominee without any justification or any chance of review. Sessions and Smith led the fight against Richard Paez, whom Bill Clinton nominated to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1996 -- and who waited 1,505 days for a vote, thanks to anonymous "holds" widely thought to be placed by the two Republicans. Another of Sessions' apparent victims was Marsha Berzon, a highly qualified and experienced lawyer with significant Republican support; she had to wait 772 days for a vote. That Sessions opposed Berzon's and Paez's nominations is fine; that he refused to allow an open debate and vote on the Senator floor was a violation of the very constitutional principles he now claims to hold so dear. (Not to mention cowardly. At least Smith admitted to placing holds on Paez and Berzon.)
"Only one nominee that President Clinton sent forward was voted down," Sessions also argued. This is true as far as it goes. But, as Sessions knows, the president can only nominate someone. It is the Senate Judiciary Committee that "sends them forward" -- or in Sessions's case, keeps them from ever coming to a vote.