Remember President Bush's botched nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court? (Bill Maher still refers to it as that time when Bush "tried to put the White House cleaning lady on the nation's highest court.") Well, now it appears as if Bush is trying to one-up himself. The President has nominated Jennifer Elrod for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. But unlike many of his other judicial nominees, it's impossible to say that Elrod does or doesn't know what she's doing. You see, the 41-year-old judge has never written a legal opinion.
That's right, not one.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which recently moved forward on the nomination of Leslie Southwick after Senator Dianne Feinstein cast a deciding vote on the nomination, is now considering putting Elrod on one of the nation's highest courts, despite a shocking lack of judicial experience on Elrod's part.
Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice, said in a press release that, "Judge Elrod's lack of experience, combined with her failure to provide meaningful answers, makes this nomination too risky for the judiciary and the American people. The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to closely scrutinize the nominees who come before them seeking a lifetime appointment to this court."
How can a Senator accurately critique the fitness of a nominee who has served only five years as a district judge (in Harris County, Texas) and has never weighed in with a single legal opinion of her own?
As far as President Bush is concerned, it looks like Elrod's political leanings (she has strong ties to the Republican party) are qualification enough to sit in judgement of Americans' constitutional rights.
The Southwick debacle - in which Feinstein helped advance the nomination of a judge who had written racist and homophobic opinions during his time on the lower court - should be a wake-up call for those of us who believe in qualification above politics for our country's courts. Though our community generally weighs in with vigorous activism on nominations for the highest court in the land, we haven't done enough to hold the Senate Judiciary Committee members responsible for allowing Bush to stack other important courts with risky judges. That has to change.
If your Senator is on the Committe, weigh in and ask them not to qualify an unknown for the federal judiciary. Our rights, and our courts, are too precious to put in the hands of judges who don't write opinions and refuse to answer questions.