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July 13, 2009

Did Senator Leahy say this with a straight face?

Leahy, in his opening remarks at today’s confirmation hearing for USSC nominee Sonia Sotomayor, as reported by Politico (emphasis added):
“Unfortunately, some have sought to twist her words and her record and to engage in partisan political attacks,” Leahy complained. “That’s not the American way. That’s not the Senate way.
Anyone old enough to remember the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings would know that Leahy is not telling the truth here.

This excerpt from a 2001 (republished in 2004) National Review article shows how sincere Leahy is regarding his pious proclamation today:
Leahy furthered distinguished himself in 1991 as the first senator to come out against Clarence Thomas (this was even before the allegations of Anita Hill). He hammered Thomas relentlessly. At one point, in a typical Leahy flourish, he said, "You describe yourself as a conservative. Well, most Vermonters are conservative, too" — but Thomas, in Leahy's eyes, wasn't the right kind of conservative. Later, in a floor statement, Leahy said, "I cannot promise the people of Vermont that I'm sure this nominee will protect their rights." And he avowed, most richly, "The last thing I seek in a Supreme Court justice is ideology."

Leahy became a major player on the Judiciary Committee in 1987, when Democrats wrested control of the Senate from Republicans. Biden was chairman, but Leahy was named head of a task force to scrutinize (or harass or delay or upend) Republican nominees. At last, he vowed, Democrats would "play hardball" (and this was years before Chris Matthews became a national celebrity). "No iffy nominees are going to get through now," Leahy crowed. The result was that nominees, many of them, were pecked at and left twisting in the wind. Interesting, in light of a later event, is that Leahy, back in '87, faulted the American Bar Association for its recommendations on judicial nominees. He said, "I have often found the ABA process to be perfunctory at best. I've often found it inadequate." According to the Washington Post, "Leahy said his task force would interview more lawyers, litigants, and local citizens instead of relying on the ABA." Leahy's entire approach in this period was: go slow, put the screws on, block.

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