Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Nelson Is Wrong on Judicial Nominations

I've known about this story for a while, but sat on it because I'm loathe to publicly criticize other Democrats. Not because they don't deserve it from time to time, but because most of the time the potential negatives of the criticism often outweigh the potential benefits. This is a time, however, when someone's behavior seems so destructive to the party and the country that I have to speak up.

I know most progressives, even progressive Democrats, aren't huge fans of Sen. Bill Nelson. And he does have a few major votes where he is clearly on the wrong side, but most of the time, Nelson votes the right way and he has a voting record significantly more progressive than most people realize. He's only a few votes a year different than liberal champion Russ Feingold. But that's not to say that when Nelson is wrong, he isn't really wrong.

Like now, for instance.

One of the most important roles that members of the Senate and the president fulfill is the appointment of judges. It isn't the sexiest of issues, but it is clearly one of the most important. Judges play the major role in defining the rights we are outlined in the Constitution and since the Supreme Court denies to hear more than 90% of the cases appealed to them, other federal judges are just as important to the big picture as the top nine justices are.

The president appoints judges, but since he or she doesn't know much about most judges in the country, he or she has to take the suggestions of other members of the party in making those nominations. Senators play a big role in recommending judges to the president for federal nomination. One of the key ways they do this is by appointing members of the Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, which screens potential federal judges. As the member of the majority party in the Senate from Florida, Nelson plays the biggest role in deciding who is on that commission.

He chose poorly.

One of the key elements of the Democratic Party is its commitment to diversity. In addition to that, we really should go a long way toward rewarding those constituencies that support the party and should not cowtow to those constituencies that support Republicans. One way of achieving these goals is making sure that appointees to the Federal JNC reflect the values of the party and represent the broad spectrum of people who make up the party and the country.

Nelson refused to do this. The latest commission, which has 56 members, includes only 11 women, none of which are black and only a few of which are Hispanic. Furthermore, one of the names put forth by Nelson is Manny Kadre, who served as the finance chair of the John McCain campaign in Florida. This struck members of the Democratic Cuban-American community the wrong way, as it should with anyone else in the state or party.

Roland Sanchez-Medina, president of the Cuban-American Bar Association, criticized Nelson for the selections -- which were made without consulting anyone in the affected communities -- for leaving out the voices of people who actually support the party in favor of people who not only violently oppose the Democratic Party and its values, but aren't even representative of the community they are appointed to serve.

Some are suggesting that this is part of a larger pattern from Nelson appeasing far-right Cuban-Americans -- a constituency that isn't supportive of the Democratic Party anyway. Clearly Nelson chose the nominees for the commission based on something other than Democratic values, an argument evidenced by the fact that Justin Sayfie defended Nelson's picks.

Nelson's defenders say that these positions should be based on qualifications, not partisanship. That argument fails on several accounts. First, and most importantly, Republicans ALWAYS base picks like these on partisanship. If we leave partisanship out of the equation, we cede ground to them not only on partisan grounds, but on moral and ideological ones as well. Do you really think that Republicans are appointing judges that solely want to enforce the law as it is written? If so, then I've got a swamp to sell you in South Florida.

Second, there are many, many people who are qualified for the position and there is little evidence or argument to suggest that one qualified person is more likely to come up with better appointments than some other qualified person and there's no way to know such a thing in advance. So, when you have multiple qualified people, other considerations become more important. Like diversity. The people of Florida are better served when their representatives reflect the diversity of the population.

(Several letters of complaint about the selections can be accessed at Naked Politics).

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