Specter Debate Intensifies

November 10, 2004

I think it’s a testament to conservatism that strong conservatives can reasonable disagree with one another and respectfully debate in the public square. Liberals often (wrongly) accuse conservatives of close-mindedness and intolerance when they are the ones who operate under those banners. The raging debate over Senator Specter’s possible elevation to the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee is an example of this robust intramural debate.

To be sure, based on my readings at least, the overwhelming majority of conservatives are adamant that Specter must go. But dissent from the widely respected Hugh Hewitt is causing some pause, or at least further reflection and fleshing out of the arguments. Hugh places his arguments against derailing Specter in two categories:

Those arguments which underscore how denying Specter the chairmanship would increase the difficulty of successful confirmation battles, and the argument that upending traditions of comity within the Senate do enormous damage to politics generally.

Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review Online’s “The Corner,” strongly disagrees, as does attorney Peter Mulhern, who used to be known on Rush’s show as “Peter the Lawyer.” Both of these gentlemen make a lot of sense.

I sympathize with Hugh’s concern that conservatives ought not get down in the mud with Democrats, that we must not be seduced into an “ends justifies the means” mentality or adopt a get even approach. In order for us to retain credibility, which is critical for the long haul, we must be true to our principles. By analogy, I argued in a number of columns that Republicans should not employ the recess appointments clause to circumvent the constitution and appoint judges. Democrats have gotten nastier and nastier since I wrote those columns and President Bush has now used the power. But at any rate, we conservatives, as respecters of the Constitution and the rule of law, must, as a strong and consistent practice, practice what we preach and studiously avoid employing questionable means to attain desirable ends.

I’m not sure I’m fairly characterizing Hugh’s position, because he has other points too, including pragmatic considerations. But to the extent he’s hanging his hat of Senate rules, I don’t think we have to treat them as sacrosanct, especially ones pertaining to the selection or election of committee chairmanships.

Nevertheless, Hugh’s arguments deserve not to be dismissed. He’s a staunch conservative and constitutionalist. But in the end, I think if conservatives can legitimately block Specter’s ascension it will be a very good thing. He has made clear where he stands on constitutionalist judges and pro-life “extremist” conservatives. What a bitter pill to swallow, after having achieved the President’s re-election to have to endure a liberal Republican committee chair hellbent on impeding the appointment of Bork-like judges. For the reasons I stated in my earlier post, I’m still in favor of derailing Specter, but let’s be mindful of observing the rules in the process.

In the meantime, let’s keep this debate raging and the conservative fires burning. Democrats have usurped the president’s judicial appointment power, and it’s time to take it back.