Some things in the United States Senate seem so rote that theyre not worth much further analysis. Hillary Clinton will make (calculating) moderate maneuvers, John McCain will be feisty about something (campaign finance reform, steroids in baseball, Tom Cruises new faux relationship), and Barbara Boxer will launch some sort of fatwa on a Bush administration nominee up for confirmation.
Yet while its not exactly news that a Marin County Über-lib would oppose a conservative nominee, Boxer somehow manages to turn her partisan misgivings into the kind of spectacles that make the op-ed pages of the Los Angeles Times swoon. John Ashcroft knows the drill and so does Condoleezza Rice (indeed, Boxers attacks on Rice this year were so over-the-top that Saturday Night Live immortalized her in a sketch: An eruption of lies! Dr. Condo-lies-a-lies-a-lot!).
Add Janice Rogers Brown to the list of Boxers targets. The conservative African-American judge, confirmed to the D.C. Court of appeals yesterday, has had to endure the verbal wrath of the Smurf-sized senator over the past few weeks with nary an opportunity for an edgewise word (Boxer has a penchant for getting really riled up over black conservative nominees). Ironically, Boxers treatment of Brown is strikingly similar to what she chastised John Ashcroft for doing to another judgethe explanation for her enthusiastic nay vote during Ashcrofts 2001 attorney general confirmation hearing.
Boxers anti-Brown diatribe on the Senate floor a few weeks ago carefully opened with a qualification: Her life story is amazing. It is remarkable. What I dont like is what she is doing to other peoples lives. Her story is amazing, but for whatever reason, she is hurting the people of this country, particularly . . . in my state. Of course, no self-respecting California liberal would want to seem hostile to an Alabama-born sharecroppers daughterone who rose from segregated poverty to the top of her law class and then on to the Golden States Supreme Court.
But hostile Boxer ultimately was. No less than 12 times during her long spiel, she talked about the mainstream and how Brown was waaaayyy outside of it. (NARAL-darling Boxer should know a thing or two about that!) The senatora member of the party of nuanceavoided legal details as she ripped into Brown, focusing solely on case outcomes in order to make the judge sound as nutty as possible: Here is another case where she voted alone, the only member of the court to oppose an effort to stop the sale of cigarettes to children. It was a case where the supermarkets didnt want to be responsible . . . she ruled against an effort to stop the sale of cigarettes to children. Child Abuser! Big Tobacco Toady! Janice Rogers Brown said a manager could use racial slurs against his Latino employees[.] Racist! This is a woman who not only voted with a rapist against a 17-year-old girl, she was the only member of the court who voted to strike down a state antidiscrimination law that provided a contraceptive drug benefits to women. Rapist-sympathizer! Misogynist!
Boxer buttressed her attack with claims that the judge was a frequent lone dissenter: She stood alone . . . she went against five Republicans and one Democrat 31 times[.] Yet, as the California Committee for Justice calculated, Brown ranked fourth in sole dissents out of eight of the states nine Supreme Court justices the group surveyed (and the time span for her dissents is nearly 10 years). If Boxers attack wasnt an outright smear, it came close.
The Barbara Boxer of four years ago, youd like to think, would find todays Barbara Boxer appalling. After all, back then, the senator based her objection to John Ashcrofts attorney general nomination almost solely on his treatment of a black judge up for senatorial confirmation (Ashcroft vehemently opposed the judge on grounds he was pro-criminal and that he once called for a retrial for a serial murderer). Ding-ding goes the Hypocrisy Bell. Was John Ashcrofts treatment of Judge Ronnie White fair? Did he have a good heart when it came to dealing with [him]? opined Boxer as she intoned how distraught Ashcrofts opposition made her and her buddy, Congresswoman Maxine Waters. I will never forget the day this Senate voted down Judge Ronnie White on a straight partisan votethe first time in 50 long years that a judge nominee who had been passed favorably through the Judiciary Committee was so treated. (Cough! Cough! Ahem! Ahem!) She then echoed liberal senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and asked President Bush, Why dont you re-nominate Ronnie White in the spirit of reconciliation? The floor speech was classic Boxer: short on details and long on empty statements and tales of hurt feelings: how could someone with a good heart do that to another person? I do not understand it.
In fact, Ashcrofts opposition to Ronnie White was substantive, drawing on detailed examination of the judges cases, which offered strong evidence for doubting his ability to make sound judicial decisions. For example, consider the judges groan-inducing dissent in Missouri v. Kinder, a murder and rape case where the lead-pipe wielding defendant had left DNA at the crime scene. White said the defendants trial was racially contaminated because its judge had previously issued a press release critical of affirmative actionwhich White interpreted as race-baiting nonsenseand did not recuse himself from the case. So if youre opposed to affirmative action, youre incapable of adjudicating cases involving minorities?
Boxer offered no comparable analysis of Browns work, butjust this week on the Senate floordid name over 100 hyper-partisan groups that opposed her nominationan anti-Brown Hail Mary. Droned Boxer: Womens Reproductive Rights Assistance Project; Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights for the Bay Area; NARAL Pro-Choice California; . . . Even so, Brown survived.
Perhaps we cant expect the 64-year-old senator to change, but it would be nice if media outlets like the New York Times stopped referring to her knee-jerk liberal attacks as vivid illustration[s] of aggressive posture. Babs, next time, vote to confirm one of our guys. In the spirit of reconciliation, of course.