Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Fred Thompson: A Wise Choice

As I noted earlier today, President Bush has asked former senator Fred Thompson to serve as his liaison with the Senate over the upcoming Supreme Court nomination. I mentioned then that I thought the president had made a smart move, and watching Thompson in his first t.v. interview since the announcement - on this afternoon's "Wolf Blitzer Reports" (with John King) - I was impressed. The whole transcript is available here, but I want to provide a few excerpts:

"King: ... As you know, when you left the Senate, you went off to Hollywood in part to have fun and make money, but you also complained that Washington was pretty partisan town by your thinking. Yet you're stepping into this role. You have to understand, sir, looking at what you've seen by the interest groups, the Democrats and Republicans, this is not going to be tiddlywinks."

Thompson: No. It's probably not going to be real easy. But it doesn't have to be as partisan as a lot of people are predicting. You know also in this town that when everybody starts saying the same things, usually something else happens. So, maybe that will happen in this case.

... King: Well, the president said today in Denmark that he would not have a checklist, he would not have a litmus test on issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage. As you know, many of the liberal interest groups and the Democrats lined up on this process, they think the president - or they certainly think the president's advisers will push him to pick someone who vote to overturn say Roe v. Wade. How can you not have a litmus test, but still want someone who has views consistent with your own?

Thompson: Well, I think that just following the tradition that we followed in this country for a long, long time is a good thing to look at to start with. And that is, being responsive to questions that senators have, you know, that pertain to the job that the nominee's about to take. But not getting in to a lot of the details in terms of personal views and things of that nature. ... I think if the president follows that pattern and the Congress and the Senate follows the traditional pattern that they have and that is, question the person on the person's qualifications, but not apply litmus tests to them, then this process doesn't have to be nearly as acrimonious as some people have made it out.

I certainly hope that this is the case, because the process is too important for it to be otherwise. There have been a lot of harsh statements already made. But you know, the judiciary is one of the institutions - especially the federal judiciary - one of the institutions in this country that's had great respect over the years. And if we take good people and castigate them just for the purpose of defeating them before a Judiciary Committee and confirmation hearings, that's not going to serve the purpose of the judiciary or the - what the American people expect, I don't think.

... King: Now, Senator Fred Thompson, why are you unique, sir? Why are you best qualified to suit this role? Why -- when the president ask, you said you sure, this is the right challenge for me right now.

Thompson: I'm probably not best qualified. [Laughter]. I mean, for his own good reasons you know, he asked me to do this. And maybe I served on the judiciary committee. I know how important this is. I know how important that the judiciary is. And how that we're in danger, perhaps, of driving good people out of the process in terms of these judicial appointments.

It has gotten very acrimonious. And that along with low pay, has caused a lot of people to say I don't need to be an appellate judge. I don't need to be a Supreme Court justice. So, I'm concerned about that.

You know, both the other branches of government in the last 30 or 40 years have suffered a lot of criticism and I think a lot of loss of esteem from what we had many years ago. That's not happened to the federal judiciary yet. But if we keep on down a trail of acrimony and threats and litmus tests and marshaling forces and so forth, you know, the same thing will happen with the federal judiciary.

... King: Does that admonition about litmus tests apply to conservative groups as well, specifically those who have attacking the attorney general of the United States Alberto Gonzalez? [sic, the AG's name is spelled Gonzales].

Thompson: Oh, I don't think they ought to be applied by anyone. I think when the president says that he wants to appoint someone who has integrity, who has demonstrated capability, demonstrated qualifications and someone who will be faithful to the constitution and the laws of the United States, he says it all.

I think the president - I've read where he has said that he's not going to ask anyone about these kinds of questions. And apply litmus tests of his own. I don't think anybody should do that.

Judges are not politicians. Judges are referees. We don't need to treat them as we would someone who is running for United States Senate or even president. We need to treat them differently. And respect the fact that up until a few years ago, it would have been considered unethical to answer a lot of these detailed questions about what they might or might not do, or the approach they might take with regard to some hot button issue."

I hope that these responses to King's questions are honest ones. I know that I'm awfully glad to have Fred Thompson in this game; he's a straight shooter, and an honest broker, and I hope that he's able to bring some much-needed adult supervision to this process. As I mentioned earlier, I have been somewhat favorably suprised at how the president and the leadership in the Senate has behaved thus far - with Thompson's help, maybe we can keep the black eyes and skinned knees to a minimum (except for those caused by the occasional accidental fall from a bike - clearly those can't be helped).


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