You Don't Wanna Know

The way things get done - or don't get done - in the US Senate would sometimes put Machiavelli to shame. Consider how the nomination logjam finally broke this week.

For months, if not years, Republican senators have been sitting on a large number of Clinton judicial nominations, mostly because they didn't want to give this president the opportunity to put his stamp on the federal bench. It was a case of partisan stonewalling.

But after a long effort, GOP leaders in the Senate finally got the president to nominate someone they fervently wanted to get confirmed. This was Bradley Smith, an Ohio law professor well known for his belief that limits on campaign contributions are unconstitutional. The post was not a judgeship, but a seat on the Federal Election Commission, which oversees campaign law, including limits on contributions.

Mr. Smith's nomination infuriated reform-minded senators on both sides of the aisle. Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona quipped it would be like putting a conscientious objector in charge of the Pentagon.

Even so, Smith was the clear choice of the Republican leadership, and both parties are entitled to name nominees to the purposefully bipartisan FEC. Could Clinton have held out until the Republicans came up with someone a little less objectionable? Perhaps, but the president had other fish to fry too.

He wanted to get some of his judicial nominees moving. So what evolved was a deal whereby the Democratic leaders in the Senate would allow Smith's nomination to move and the other side would allow 16 federal judgeships to be filled, as well as bring to a vote dozens of other Clinton nominees that have been blocked.

The freeing up of the judicial appointments is clearly a positive development. The gaps in the federal bench have drawn increasing criticism. And to give Smith his due, he's an unquestioned expert on election law who says he will enforce what's on the books, though he may fervently disagree with it.

So the public's business gets done after a fashion. Too bad it's a fashion that can baffle the rest of us.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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