Posted by: Amelia | July 8, 2007

Why Party Matters

The role of the executive and legislative branches in determining the ideological character of the highest levels of the judicial branch is one of the best examples of how it really does matter which party is in the majority or in the White House.  I know the whole cynical “there’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats” line of thinking is (thankfully) less popular today than it was five or ten years ago, but it’s still worth highlighting all the ways in which the shift of even a few Senate seats can make a huge difference.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the curious parallels between Judges Champ Lyons and Leslie Southwick, both Southern state judges who issued anti-gay custody rulings.  Lyons, fortunately, failed in his bid to be elected to the Harvard Board of Overseers.  Southwick, who has been nominated to a federal appeals court, is lobbying to get his nomination out of the Senate Judiciary Committee where Democrats have stalled it:

Southwick met Wednesday with Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl, a moderate Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. But Joe Bonfiglio, Kohl’s press secretary, said Thursday the senator has signalled his skepticism that the nomination can move forward.

Southwick is also seeking a meeting with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, another moderate Democrat on the panel.

Because Democrats hold a 10-9 majority on the panel, Southwick needs the support of at least one Democrat to move his nomination for a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals out of the committee and to the full Senate. All nine Republicans on the committee are expected to support Southwick.

That slim 10-9 majority, thanks to the slim 51-49 majority in the Senate at large, is the difference between the nomination’s failure and success.  Had Democrats not achieved majority last fall, this homophobe would already have joined the many Bush appointees who, thanks to lifetime tenure, will shape the judicial system for years to come.

Of course, the dire situation in the Supreme Court has made this point obvious.  Today’s New York Times piece on liberals’ grim outlook outlines the necessity of a long-term plan for taking back the court, since there is little hope of short-term progress.  It’s a cautionary tale: we are in this situation because Republicans, at various points in the last 25 years, have had far more opportunities to control both the nomination and the confirmation processes.  On this and so many other issues, party really does matter.

Via Feministing, I read Nancy Goldstein’s Huffington Post piece on her dissatisfaction with the Democratic presidential nominees and their inability to stand up for gay marriage rights.  It irritates me, too, just as it irritates me when Democrats downplay their support of abortion rights.  Goldstein wasn’t making the party-doesn’t-matter argument by any means, and she said she would probably vote for whomever received the Democratic nomination.  The piece was meant to explain “why no Democratic presidential candidate is getting [her] gay money.”

I respect that.  Giving money or volunteering is larger, more public symbol of support than voting alone.  While I wouldn’t blindly support just any Democrat, the consideration of which party will control the branches of government is a not-unimportant factor in my decision about who will get my time and money (however little I am able to give).

Thanks to a few thousand voters in Virginia and Montana, the Senate Judiciary Committee is controlled by Democrats who can block Leslie Southwick’s nomination.  The next step, of course, is to elect a better nominator.  Will the Democratic nominee get my pro-choice, feminist, gay-supporting money, time, and vote?  You bet.  The relative amounts of the first two meaures of support may depend on how much I like the candidate, but party is too important to me not to give something.

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