Thursday, December 12, 2013
The late Strom Thurmond, who once ran for president on a platform of maintaining racial segregation and discriminatory Jim Crow laws, was one of the most divisive figures in American history since the Civil War.
Portland lawyer William Kayatta has been nominated by President Obama to fill a seat on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, but there is nothing in his past to suggest he would be a partisan judge.
2002 File Photo/Jack Milton
It is fitting that his name is attached to an ugly and obstructionist piece of governmental machinery that values partisan politics over the good of the nation.
The so-called Thurmond Rule calls for a Senate minority to block votes on judicial appointments if its members feel that an upcoming presidential election could change the president's party and thus change the party affiliation of the nominees the new president would name. It's been used by Democrats and Republicans and the result is the same -- overwork for judges and unnecessary delays in the courts.
Senate Republicans are now invoking that rule to block a slew of non-controversial judicial nominees, including that of Portland lawyer William Kayatta, who has been nominated to fill a seat on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.
Kayatta was nominated by President Obama, but there is nothing in his past to suggest he would be a partisan judge. He won easy support from the Senate Judiciary Committee in a voice vote and has the backing of Maine's two Republican senators.
Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have called for a floor vote on the Kayatta nomination, which would almost certainly result in his appointment. But they have either been unwilling to use behind-the-scenes influence over their colleagues or lack the clout needed to get this nomination freed from the grip of the hyper-partisans in Washington, who prefer delay to getting things done.
Collins has blamed the Obama administration for waiting too long to put Kayatta's name forward, getting his nomination entangled in election-year politics. But it's not the administration that's blocking the nomination now. It's Collins' fellow Republican senators who are choosing to invoke the Thurmond Rule, picking strong-arm politics over fair process.
The rule may be the right way to remember Thurmond, but it doesn't say much about the way our government operates in the 21st century. Unless these senators come to their senses, litigants who have already waited too long to get their day in court will have to wait a little longer.