Hughcifers Boycott

You can hunt coyote year-round in Vermont. Here in Orange County, it's always open season on Republican radio commentator Hugh Hewitt. You'll know him by his sparkling rhetoric, charm and monumental hypocrisy.

Writing in last week's conservative Weekly Standard, Hewitt proposed boycotting Vermont. The reason? That state's senior senator, Democrat Patrick Leahy, has blocked eight of George W. Bush's 11 judicial confirmations.

Leahy is chairman of the Senate's Judiciary Committee, “a position he has abused from the moment he assumed it,” Hewitt wrote.

It's true that Leahy is holding up Bush's federal appointees, but is that really evidence of “a one-man blockade” as Hewitt called it? A “war against the nominees”? “Obviously unconstitutional”? Or is Hewitt merely being Hughcifer—talking about war and the liberal attack on the Constitution in order to draw around himself a crowd of rubber-necking radio hillbillies?

It's the latter. Despite Hewitt, Leahy isn't the first senator in history to block a judicial nomination. Indeed, in its earliest drafts, the Constitution saw no presidential role in judicial nominations; the job of appointing judges was left to each state's two senators. That changed in the final draft of the Constitution: as part of a Madisonian compromise, the president was ultimately allowed only the right to nominate. It was fully expected that a Senate brawl would ensue.

Hewitt teaches constitutional law at Chapman University in Orange, so presumably he knows all this—just as he knows that, most recently, the Senate's right to review judicial nominees was wielded to great political effect by Republican John Ashcroft, now the U.S. Attorney General. In late 1997, Ashcroft was a U.S. senator—a very conservative senator—from Missouri. Bill Clinton was the president. In a move to position himself for the 2000 presidential campaign, Ashcroft harnessed the support of what a Weekly Standard writer then called “a formidable coalition” of 270 conservative pressure groups to block Clinton's liberal judicial nominations. “We're making business as usual impossible,” Ashcroft's spokesperson bragged. Fifty Clinton judicial nominees who had moved through the Senate review process for two years cooled their heels while Ashcroft boasted that he was acting on behalf of such groups as the Eagle Forum and the National Rifle Association. “As a political matter, it's a smart issue for Ashcroft,” Weekly Standard editor William Kristol said back then. “Ashcroft can be a hero to conservatives by blocking Clinton nominees.”

Is Leahy a hero for doing the same thing? Not according to Hewitt. He calls Leahy “a bully, and an arrogant one at that.”

Hewitt knows something of arrogance and bullying; he worked for Nixon post-Watergate. When he used his radio show last month to propose the Vermont boycott, he says “a few hundred people . . . dispatched notice of their decision to bypass Vermont to various hoteliers and the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. So many wrote it seems that notice was taken, though abruptly dismissed.”

So many? Chamber spokesperson Vicky Tebbetts notes that Vermont receives up to 8.5 million tourists each year; Hewitt's few hundred dark minions hardly add up to an Army of the Righteous.

“We're wondering how many of these people even had concrete plans to come to Vermont,” says Tebbetts, who adds that “even if the e-mails multiplied by a hundred, it wouldn't make much of a difference.”

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