June 6, 2005
Sen. Talent has forgotten me…maybe
It’s not often that national party politics enter this column. But recently, I wrote to my senator, Jim Talent, and asked him to have some sense when it came to changing the Senate rules over the President’s judicial nominees.
I wanted to share the emails’ exchange to let common folks know they are not alone. The exchange demonstrates several realities about citizen participation in the federal government beyond his or her vote. Though the outcome is less than optimal, it strengthens my resolve to keep fighting…well…THE MAN.
First, the following email exchange shows the distance between constituent and their elected officials. Senators’ offices receive abundant correspondence and telephone contact. To handle this, receptionists and staffers register mere opposition or approval of a senator’s actions. Receptionists first ask if the caller where he or she lives then listens for an up-or-down on current legislation.
Email, the most common way of writing a legislator these days, is more problematic. When someone uses Talent’s Web contact, they have to fill in a form. Some of the information makes sense: Name and address. Disturbing, however, is when a citizen has to choose a topic under which to file his or her own comment, dooming it to an uncertain file destined soon to be erased from the hard drive.
Second, email contact, in particular, shows how citizens, people who actually live in the Senator’s jurisdiction, inhabit a sub-class below those corporate entities that have first-class entrée to the senator’s office, ear and Senate floor voting consideration.
We know this because the corporate or special interest lobbyist gets paid to wander the halls of the national legislature. They have full-time access. And I’m sure the corporate lobbyist doesn’t have to file their comment under narrowly defined topics of “taxes,” “welfare,” or — God forbid — “labor”? (Republican, translated into English, means, “screw the working man.”)
A corporate lobbyist is most likely in the senator’s office commenting on international and domestic labor policy, tax policy and corporate welfare — all at the same time. On the other hand, we the voters and citizens get a tiny form and a few, simplistic topics to file our opinions under.
Most of all, my correspondence with Talent’s computers show how much power we commoners leave to other people (corporations, special interests, etc.) to use.
When my wife, Virginia, first wrote Sen. Talent about the filibuster, she chose the “hot topic” of “judicial nominations” and wrote that it didn’t make sense to do away with the minority’s option to filibuster — in a sense, slowing the process of putting politically bent judges on the federal bench.
This is what she received back from the senator. It’s addressed to M. Dobson. “M,” I presume, is for Mr., Mrs. or Ms. It could also be Mike, Mary or Mikala, of whom there are none in this house:
Dear M. Dobson:
Thank you for contacting me with your support for the President's judicial nominations. I appreciate the time you have taken to share your views with me, and I welcome the opportunity to respond.
My feeling towards judicial nominations is that I will vote to confirm nominees if they are reasonably qualified and competent, and if their jurisprudence reflects a widely held view of American law. Basically this means that if a nominee has enjoyed reasonable success in a field of law or legal education over a number of years, I will vote to confirm him or her, unless there is credible evidence that the nominee is dishonest or has a strange eccentric jurisprudence.
Unfortunately, for some in Washington, politics continues to take precedence over the fair consideration of judicial nominations. The decision by the Senate Democrats to filibuster a number of the President's nominees in the 108th session of Congress was unfortunate to say the least.
I am not a big supporter of the filibuster in general. But I do believe that if it is going to be used it should be reserved for issues of the greatest national significance, not abused for political reasons. I will continue to monitor the situation because I strongly believe that the President's nominees will receive fair treatment.
Again thank you for contacting me. If I may be of further assistance, please don't hesitate to call or write.
Thank you for your email. To contact me on this or any other subject, please go to http://talent.senate.gov/Contact/default.cfm
This response, I take it, is a sincere reply to my wife’s comment. It says so at the very end. But it doesn’t look to me like he really read what she had to say.
Now, my wife differs with me politically in many ways. But on the subject of judicial nominations to the federal bench, we agree. So, I decided to respond.
It was then I realized that the contact form on Talent’s Web site might be giving us away. We live, according to Gov. Matt Blunt, in a place no one but a few poor Democrats want to live. I felt if I made the wrong move, the email would become a mere “complainer” tucked away on some hard drive to be deleted later.
So, I did what any sensible person would do. I skipped past the “hot topics” of terrorism, human cloning and judicial nominations. I scrolled past “topics” like abortion, gun control and Social Security. I went right to “other—not listed” in the hopes that someone would have to look at my comment, at least, and see what I had to say.
I believe you equivocate eloquently but imprudently. It doesn't seem you have really listened to my views on judicial nominations. So please let me make myself clear:
I understand your decisions must be made on what you believe to be "reasonably qualified and competent." But I want to let you, my Senator, know the "widely held" view of law is now inimical to the rights, civil liberties and freewill of many of our citizens.
In fact, I fear what you mean by "widely held view of American law." This seasoned with the statement "a strange eccentric jurisprudence" seems to put you into a momentarily popular position of making value judgments based on a subjective (and selective) interpretation of what popular opinion of law may be.
I think you can and should transcend the political lines of your party to stand up for the reasonable, just and long-term good of our state and nation. I implore you to resist bending to expediency, popular opinion or momentary hot-button issues for the short-term political gain.
You know as well as I do that no nominee deserves fair treatment. In fact, what they deserve is the courtesy of consideration for jobs that last a lifetime, which is already guaranteed by the Constitution. You use the term "fair consideration" to appeal to my sense of justice, and right and wrong. But since these are long-term positions, I think that judicial nominees should be under utmost scrutiny without limitation.
I also believe that the majority party should not undermine the ability of the minority to be heard and paid attention to. This has been an important, if sometimes frustrating part of our Republic over the course of time and will continue to be. If we know anything from a long view of history it is that parties will rise to power and they will fall to opposition. The direct election of senators and the workings of electoral politics guarantees change in its future constitution. You need to keep this in mind if, at the time Republicans lose their majority (within the few years or a century from now), they will have to deal with the conditions they set today. Moreover, the move toward expediency today means that some party, inimical to the interests of the country in the long-term, will be able to force their hand to dominate and stack the judiciary to their benefit. The judiciary should make law. You and I know it, and it's occurred since Madison lost to Marbury in the Supreme Court of John Marshall. The judiciary should continue to play an important role in American culture, law, and government. It should not become a tool of the legislature, a tool useful in whosever hands it falls.
As you may know, the interpretation and making of law in the judiciary is a process that takes many years. It sways only slowly to prevailing political or popular-opinion winds. It moves slowly, case by case, interpretation by interpretation, precedent by precedent. It creates a complex and stable legal canon that checks the more whimsical and changing legislature. To inject doubt over the decision-making ability of competent judges (already on the bench) is detrimental to the checks that the judiciary has on the legislature.
To protect political and long-term interests of a people and a nation, however, injecting doubt into the ability of appointees undermines nothing and serves as important minority check on the powers of the majority, the judiciary and the executive.
You write that the filibuster it "should be reserved for issues of the greatest national significance." In the rule of law, what is more important than the judiciary?
Now, all I’ve received from Jim Talent in response to this second email was a copy of his newsletter. I assume Jim’s read my comment since because other issues of the newsletter have been sent out, but I haven’t received them. Maybe he thinks I’m not worth his time.
My wife, however, sent me this note in regard to the above. It proves she loves me and is still my greatest reviewer:
on 5/18/05 12:12 PM, Virginia Dobson at email@example.com wrote:
With all love and respect may I say..."too many words, darling." Although eloquent, nobody has time to read all this, and I'm sure there are some strong points you would like to make sure get read.
I especially like the fourth paragraph...and 9 & 10.
Thank you for standing up for us, and our values.
Patrick Dobson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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