Leahy vows to re­pair Bush ‘dam­age’ from Ju­di­ciary perch

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Charles Hurt

In­com­ing Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Pa­trick J. Leahy said Dec. 13 that he plans to rein in Pres­i­dent Bush’s pro­gram of wire­tap­ping with­out war­rants, re­write the­p­ol­i­cy­forhan­dlingter­ror­is­mde­tainees and more closely scru­ti­nize nom­i­nees to the fed­eral courts.

“As a Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity pre­pares to take the lead on the Ju­di­cia­ryCom­mit­tee,we­donothavethe lux­ury of start­ing with a com­pletely clean slate,” the Ver­mont Demo­crat toldanau­di­enceatGe­orge­townUniver­si­tyLawCen­ter.“We­be­gin­know­ingth­atwe­havead­u­ty­tore­pair­real dam­age done to our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment over the last few years.”

Mr. Leahy ac­cused Mr. Bush of “cor­ro­sive uni­lat­er­al­ism,” erod­ing the pri­vacy rights of Amer­i­cans, eras­ing con­sti­tu­tional checks and bal­ances, and “pack­ing” the fed­eral ju­di­ciary.

The Repub­li­can House and Se­nate, he said, ac­cepted White House pol­icy changes with­out ques­tion.

“I came to the Se­nate dur­ing the ebb tide of Viet­nam and Water­gate. In my 32 years since then in the Se­nate, I have never seen a Congress so will­fully derelict in its du­ties,” Mr. Leahy said. “This has been an un­for­tu­nate chap­ter in Congress’ his­tory, a time when our Con­sti­tu­tion was un­der as­sault, when our le­gal and hu­man rights were weak­ened, when our pri­vacy and other free­doms were eroded.”

Still, he said, he hopes to pro­ceed in a bi­par­ti­san man­ner.

“Sen­a­tor Leahy has not yet as­sumed the chair­man­ship of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, but his state­mentsto­dayand­in­re­cen­tweek­sare al­readyrais­ingdis­turbingques­tions about his abil­ity and will­ing­ness to give fair con­sid­er­a­tion to the pres­i­dent’s ju­di­cial nom­i­nees,” said Curt Levey, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the con­ser­va­tiveCom­mit­teeforJus­tice,who at­tended the speech.

Though short on specifics, Mr. Leahy crit­i­cized the pro­gram of wire­tap­ping with­out war­rants and said­he­hopestoup­dateth­elawsgov­ern­ing­for­eign­in­tel­li­gence­war­rants. “With mean­ing­ful over­sight and co­op­er­a­tion from this ad­min­is­tra­tion, we­canachievetheright­bal­ance,”he said.

Sen.JonKyl,Ari­zon­aRepub­li­can and Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee mem­ber, de­fended the pres­i­dent’s pro­gram, aime­dat­cap­tur­ing­com­mu­ni­ca­tions of ter­ror­ist plot­ters.

“Pro­tect­ing le­git­i­mate pri­vacy rights while en­sur­ing the safety and se­cu­rity of the Amer­i­can peo­ple from ter­ror­ists is not a zero-sum game,” he said in re­sponse to Mr. Leahy’s com­ments. “We have done and can do both. In­deed, we should be­seek­ing­waystoad­dmore­tool­sto fight­ter­ror­ists,not­be­gindis­man­tling the ef­fec­tive laws Congress has passed in re­cent years.”

Mr. Leahy said he wants Congress to re­con­sider leg­is­la­tion deny­ing­habeas­cor­pus­right­stoter­ror­ism sus­pects held at the U.S. Naval Base Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba.

He also said he hopes to make “fur­ther progress” on the Se­nate’s im­mi­gra­tion re­form bill, which pro­poses a path to cit­i­zen­ship for most of the es­ti­mated 12 mil­lion to 20 mil­lion il­le­gal aliens in the coun­try.

“We made some bi­par­ti­san pro­gres­son­thecom­mit­tee­andinthe Se­nate last year only to be stymied by Repub­li­can con­gres­sional lead­ers,” he said. “We can work to­gether to bring peo­ple out of the shad­ows, to treat hard­work­ing peo­ple with dig­nity and re­spect rather than dis­dain and dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

Mr. Leahy crit­i­cized Bush nom­i­na­tion­stothefed­er­al­bench.“For­too long, this White House has used ju­di­cial nom­i­na­tions for par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal pur­poses and re­fused to work with us on con­sen­sus nom­i­nees,” he said.

Those re­marks re­opened a rift with con­ser­va­tives, who see only par­ti­san pol­i­tics in Se­nate Democrats’ fil­i­busters of sev­eral nom­i­na­tions.

Mr. Levey said Mr. Leahy’s calls for­con­sul­ta­tionover­look­theCon­sti­tu­tion,which­gives­thep­res­i­dent­the “sole power of ap­point­ing judges.”

“Leahy ap­par­ently views him­self as the pres­i­dent’s part­ner in se­lect­ing nom­i­nees, rather than as part of the lim­ited ad­vice-and-con­sent process en­vi­sioned for the Se­nate by the Con­sti­tu­tion,” he said. “More­over, when Sen­a­tor Leahy speaks of want­ing ‘con­sen­sus’ ju­di­cial nom­i­nees, what he ap­pears to have in mind are nom­i­nees that are ac­cept­able to the coali­tion of ul­tra­l­ib­eral groups that have or­ches­trated much of the op­po­si­tion to the pres­i­dent’s ju­di­cial picks.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Sen. Pa­trick J. Leahy

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