GOP Contemplating Filibusters of Johnsen and Hamilton

Anyone who paid even a minimal amount of attention to the battle over judicial nominations during the George W. Bush’s presidency knows that Senate Republicans were unified in their opposition to the Democrats’ use of the filibuster against a handful of his nominees, going so far as to threaten the “nuclear option” to do away with their ability to block his controversial nominees.

But those days are long gone, as the GOP made clear to President Obama when it pre-emptively threatened to filibuster all of his nominees before he had even made any. And true to form, it looks like they are contemplating using one right off the bat against his very first nominee, David Hamilton:

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, has complained that the Democrats are moving too quickly to consider Mr. Hamilton, a federal trial judge in Indiana since 1994. The committee has set for Wednesday the confirmation hearing on Judge Hamilton, who was nominated only in mid-March.

While that possibility is still a bit down the road, a filibuster of Obama’s nominee head the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, Dawn Johnsen, looks like it might be coming soon:

Republicans senators and aides, granted anonymity to discuss their strategy, said they might consider a filibuster in an effort to block Ms. Johnsen’s confirmation. They will first gauge whether they can attract some support from conservative Democrats, they said, in order to help defeat any motion that would cut off debate.

Roll Call also reports that Republicans are considering filibustering Johnsen and that doing so would be a good way for Sen. Arlen Specter, who is likely facing a tough primary challenge from ultra-conservative Pat Toomey, to demonstrate his conservative bona fides:

Although Senate Judiciary ranking member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) declined to comment on a possible filibuster until he meets with Johnsen again before leaving for recess at the end of the week, Republicans confirmed that the filibuster option has been discussed by members of the GOP Conference and that opposition to the nomination is mounting … Republicans said Johnsen’s record on a number of key issues has done something that has become increasingly rare in their fractured Conference — uniting social conservatives and security hard-liners.

“She’s got one of those résumés that unites the social conservatives and the war-on-terror conservatives,” a GOP leadership aide said. Johnsen has been a vocal critic of how the Bush administration conducted the war on terror and her views have rubbed hawkish conservatives in the GOP the wrong way.

Should Republicans ultimately decide to filibuster Johnsen’s nomination, it could be a boon to Specter’s re-election efforts. Specter is looking at a tough primary challenge from former Rep. Pat Toomey, who came within 17,000 votes of defeating him in the 2004 GOP primary. A recent poll showed Toomey with a double-digit lead over Specter in a hypothetical Republican primary, but with many voters still undecided and the primary more than one year away.

Specter also faces a dwindling base across the state as hundreds of thousands of moderate Republicans have changed their registrations to Democratic since 2004 in the Keystone State. Specter is at a disadvantage in the closed GOP primary without those moderate Republicans and will likely have to mount a voter registration drive to switch some of those Democrats back before 2010.

But a filibuster of Johnsen could help Specter significantly bolster his conservative credentials with the voters back home. One Republican said a filibuster “could be very good for him,” particularly because opposition to Johnsen’s nomination runs the spectrum of conservative constituencies.

That would be quite a change for Specter, who was no fan of the filibuster when Democrats used it against Bush judicial nominees like Miguel Estrada, according to his remarks on the Senate floor on April 2, 2003:

When you strip this argument down, it boils down to an effort by the other side of the aisle to rewrite the advice and consent clause of the Constitution. For more than 200 years, the President has had discretion in the nomination of Federal judges. And unless there is some reason not to confirm them, they then are confirmed … This is simply an effort, when 41 Members from the other side of the aisle decide to oppose cloture, to continue this filibuster … I do believe there is going to have to be some dramatic action taken so that Americans understand the travesty going on in the Senate Chamber today.

So the filibuster of a nominee to a life-time seat on the federal judiciary was a “travesty” to Specter, but a filibuster of an executive branch nominee to a political position might be perfectly acceptable to him?