As the battle over President Bush’s judicial nominees reopens in the Senate, we speak with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. We also talk to him about restoring ties to the Indonesian military and 48 towns in Vermont that voted yesterday against war, calling for the Vermont National Guard be brought home. [includes rush transcript]
The battle over President Bush’s judicial nominees reopened in the Senate yesterday. For the second time in two years, appellate court nominee William Myers faced questions from the Judiciary Committee yesterday about his record as the Interior Department’s top lawyer and a lobbyist for mining and cattle interests.
The impasse over judges is one of the most explosive issues facing the 109th Congress, and Myers is the year’s first test case. He is one of seven appellate court nominees blocked by Democratic filibusters in Bush’s first term but resubmitted by the president this year. Three other blocked nominees were withdrawn
- * Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)*, he is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He joins us on the line from Virginia.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. He’s the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He joins us on the line from Virginia. Welcome to Democracy Now!
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: Good morning. Good to be with you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: I was interested in your choice of music leading into the segment.
AMY GOODMAN: I understood you wanted us to just continue with the music in this news show.
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: No, no, no, no. That’s alright. I know that one very well.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to — can you explain who the people are that President Bush has now re-nominated?
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: Sure. This thing has become so hyped and so misunderstood. President Bush has actually done very well with his judicial nominees with democratic help. Those have been consensus nominees. They have gone right through. For example, during the 48 months of his term, the democrats were in charge of the Senate for 17 months. During that 17 months, we confirmed 100 of his judges. In the remaining 31 months, the republicans confirmed another 103. We actually moved a lot faster for President Bush than his own party did, but some go beyond the pale. He has sent up one man, who we blocked, who’s back again, who practiced law illegally in two jurisdictions for years, first in the District of Columbia, then he practiced illegally, then moved to Utah and practiced illegally. He has been now nominated for the second highest court in the land. Can you imagine if Bill Clinton had done that? They would be screaming headlines on it. Another is a judge who has ruled so consistently with basically the financial interests. I’ll give you one example. A woman had sued, turned out that she was one of many women who were in for physical exams, in this case a breast exam, and the doctor brings in a salesman and just puts a white coat on them so they can watch the exam. When she sues, the judge rules, well, she shouldn’t have had any sense of a right of privacy. Well, you assume if you’re in that kind of a situation, you’re being examined by someone in a white coat, that they are a doctor. And now we had yesterday a lawyer involved not only in substantial conflicts of interest, but people that he placed in the Department of Interior, continue those conflicts of interest. As I said in these hearings, he said that he considers the environmental arm of our government the tyranny of King George. I reminded him that I was born and raised in the part of America that fought the revolution against King George, and that we don’t consider our government that tyrannical. I mean, these people go beyond the mainstream. Now, I mentioned before how we moved 100 of his judges in 17 months. We did this even though we’d had 61 of President Clinton’s judges subject to these kind of pocket filibusters by the republicans. They never allowed them to vote, 61–almost all of whom would have been confirmed had they came to a vote. We tried to change that by moving the President’s, but we have also told the President, "This is an independent branch of government, the judiciary is. You cannot put people on there in a way that you are going to try to make the judiciary an arm of the Republican Party" — actually an arm of the most conservative part of the Republican Party. I wouldn’t allow it if a democrat wanted to make the judiciary an arm of the Democratic Party. It has to be an independent judiciary, or it loses all its credibility.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Vermont Senator, Patrick Leahy, about President Bush’s judicial re-nominees, among them, William Pryor and Priscilla Owen. Can you talk about these two judicial nominees, Senator Leahy?
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: Well, I felt that Priscilla Owen from Texas is so far out of the mainstream. Her opinions —- even the very conservative Texas Supreme Court has criticized her as being out of the mainstream. If we’re going to have positions filled, especially when -—
AMY GOODMAN: In what way, specifically?
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: Well, just it is almost a knee-jerk reaction, corporations can do no wrong. People who have been injured have no real cause of action. It’s so much over and over and over again. You read her opinions — I’ll give you an idea. We had two or three senators who had met with her, were very predisposed toward her and then started reading her decisions and said, "How can somebody be this blind to what is happening to people?" Mr. Pryor was sent up — actually he’s on the bench now, because he was given a recessed appointment. He was sent up, and it was made very, very clear, he was there simply as a symbol. He’s a nice enough person. I have met him. He’s a pleasant person and all of that, but sent as a symbol and packaged by the White House in a way that we want to have a symbolic ideological position on this independent court. I mean, that almost guaranteed there would be opposition. We’ll go back now. He has been on the court for a few months. We’ll go and look at the decisions he has written since he’s been there.
AMY GOODMAN: So, this issue of if you filibuster, and I want to ask if you plan to, Senator Frist saying — using the nuclear option, the whole idea of ending filibuster.
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: Well, of course, that would so change the whole nature of the Senate. The Senate is unique, and the founders of this country set it up to be unique, so that every state has a voice, no matter its size, and so that things can be slowed up if they’re — so that the passions of the moment can be slowed up. It’s sort of like Jefferson’s saucers, he referred to it, so the Senate can look at things more carefully. We have things that pass sometimes on the spur of the moment from the House of Representatives because it’s emotional and so on, fully expecting the Senate to take some time to look at it. Sometimes we take too long. Most of the time, we get it very right. If you wanted to do away with the ability to slow things up, what you say is you might as well do away with the Senate. Let’s have an arbitrary — you can have an arbitrary executive, they have their own party in power just do anything they want. It would also mean that almost half of the states in the country would have no voice. On a more practical matter, of course, 90% of what’s done in the Senate requires a unanimous consent. If people stop doing that, the whole Senate would come to a screeching halt. It’s a dumb idea. It’s a dumb idea.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Leahy, I wanted to get to two other issues before I know you have to go.
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: One of them is IMET. One of them is Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, calling for the restoration of international military education and training aid to Indonesia, restoring military ties with the Indonesian military, which were cut off after the Santa Cruz massacre in 1991, in which the Indonesian military killed more than 270 Timorese, and ultimately cut off in 1999 as the people of Timor voted for independence and Indonesian military razed the country to the ground. Now, Condoleezza Rice saying that they’re going to restore. You have been very active on this issue over the past decade. What is your response?
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: Well, you are one of the most knowledgeable people in the media about the situation in Indonesia and Timor from your own experience there, and I’ve told Secretary Rice, I see no reason to be rewarding the Indonesians with this IMET program. It’s not a great deal of money. They want it more for the symbolic, but we’ve had Americans murdered there, aside from all of the people in that region, the Timorese and others who have been murdered, and nothing has been done. I mean, if we just want to look at it from a purely selfish point of view, we have had Americans who have been murdered. You have a person who has admitted complicity in the murder, and we cannot get them even turned over to us. Why in heaven’s name we are rewarding? This is supposed to be a law and order administration. Heck, I was a prosecutor. I wouldn’t be rewarding somebody who is holding a murderer that I wanted to get, that Mr. Wamang, the one person indicted in the U.S., why hasn’t he been indicted and arrested there?
AMY GOODMAN: So what are you going to do about —?
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: Well, I think that we — I think I’m going to keep pushing it. I think it was a bad, bad mistake on the part of the administration. I think it’s almost saying, here you can thumb your nose at us. I would be amazed that they would do a thing to help us out, and unless there is an amazing change in it, I’m simply going to bring up the amendment again in the next appropriations bill. I think this is — the Indonesians have spent millions of dollars trying to get these few hundred thousands of dollars because of the symbolic effect. My response to that would be if you want the symbolism, then do the substance. Turn over the people that murdered the Americans. Clean up your own house within the military. I think the police and others are moving better. The military certainly have not.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Leahy, finally, in your home state of Vermont, 38 town meetings voted yesterday to condemn the war in Iraq, calling for Vermont National Guard to be brought home. Vermont has lost more soldiers per capita in Iraq than any other state. Would you call for these soldiers to be brought home, the Vermont National Guard?
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: We’re a feisty state. We will do what we are called upon. I mean, our National Guard, the leaders of our National Guard have said that. I think the war was a mistake. I think we’re stretching the Guard far, far too thin. I’m very, very proud of the men and women in our state who have answered. I hope we can get them back as soon as possible. I hope we can get back all of the Guard and reserves from all of the states as soon as possible.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the significance of this number of towns?
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: Well, I want to see — I understand the resolution. I’m just getting some of the press stuff this morning on it. I understand the resolution was very considerably in some towns; some towns are lost, one town I think it tied, others it passed overwhelmingly.
AMY GOODMAN: Right. In 38 of the 50 town meetings where it was brought up, it passed.
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: I don’t know what part of the population, that’s a small part of the population involved. We have almost 260 towns, but — of varying sizes from 38 people to 38,000. I will look at it. I think the people of Vermont know my strong opposition to the war. They know I want to get these soldiers back, but I want to get them back from all of the states.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for joining us, Senator Patrick Leahy, democrat of Vermont, speaking to us from Virginia. Thanks for joining us.