Last week, the Senate was in recess. But, you couldn't tell by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which scheduled a hearing for President Bush's latest nominee to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Catherina Haynes.
If confirmed, Judge Haynes may be the last nominee to the Fifth Circuit for quite some time. There are no more vacancies on that court, a court already dominated by Republican-appointees. In fact, the Fifth Circuit is 75% Republican appointed, and George W. Bush alone has appointed nearly 1/3 of the bench.
Once, the Fifth Circuit was vaunted as a champion for civil rights and the rights of ordinary Americans. Courageous judges, both Republican and Democratic appointees, at great personal risk, pledged their allegiance to equal justice under law. That has changed. Starting with the Reagan years, ultraconservatives waged an unrelenting campaign to pack the federal bench with ideologues committed to carrying out an agenda favorable to corporate interests and damaging to the rights of ordinary Americans. Nowhere is the success of that campaign more evident than on the Fifth Circuit.
A court once committed to upholding civil rights, the Fifth now is one to be avoided for those asserting their civil rights, making sexual harassment claims or challenging death penalty sentences. Recently, a panel of Fifth Circuit judges denied Katrina victims relief, ruling instead that any ambiguities in a policy's language should be resolved in favor of large insurance companies, rather than the policy-holders whose homes had been destroyed.
Reagan-appointee Edith Jones recently became Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit. She has referred to the Supreme Court's seminal rulings as "the debacles of the 20th century." She has voted to strike down parts of federal laws: protecting school children and state workers with disabilities; outlawing robbery, car bombing and murder-for-hire; and banning machine guns. Frequently reversed by the Supreme Court, she has held that a sleeping lawyer provided effective assistance of counsel to a defendant in a criminal case, brushed aside stark evidence of racial discrimination in jury selection, displayed open hostility to sexual harassment claims, voted consistently to weaken anti-discrimination law and refused to recognize a constitutional right to bodily integrity that would protect public school children from being sexually abused by their teachers.
And Judge Jones is not alone in her ideological approach to the law. Among her Fifth Circuit colleagues are five George W. Bush appointees with troubling records, most notably highly controversial nominees Priscilla Owen and Leslie Southwick.
And now George W. Bush has nominated another lawyer without a demonstrated commitment to equal justice in order to cement his legacy on the Fifth Circuit. The Bush administration may make a lot of mistakes, but not when it comes to picking appeals court judges. President Bush would not have nominated Judge Haynes if he were not aware of, and comfortable with, her views. The Senate, however, is not privy to that information despite its constitutionally-mandated co-equal role in the appointment of federal judges. Yet a hearing is scheduled on her nomination for tomorrow. During recess.
It is time to say stop. It is time to put the brakes on President Bush's inexorable determination to stack the federal bench. The rights and protections for hundreds of millions of Americans are at stake. The courts are too important. The Fifth Circuit is too important. The Senate must not capitulate to pressure from the right-wing fringe and the White House, but instead stand firm against this president's last gasp attempt to shape the federal bench during his final year in office.
For more information on the damage being done to the Fifth Circuit, please visit here.
For more on the nomination of Catherina Haynes, visit here.