July 26, 2005

July 26, 2005 | Commentary on Legal Issues

Legislative Lowdown -- Week of July 25th

If Judge John Roberts were a senator, he'd be a shoo-in for the U.S. Supreme Court-at least, according to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.).

Senate liberals such as Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.) and Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.) insist that the judicial philosophy of Supreme Court nominee Roberts is fair game. If so, they should consider the recent musings of Reid, who essentially pre-cleared several quite conservative Republican senators for the nation's highest court. According to Reid, Senators Mike Crapo (Idaho), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Mel Martinez (Fla.), Mike DeWine (Ohio) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) all qualify.

After reviewing the voting records of these senators on several hot-button issues, senior White House guru Pete Wehner observed: "Sen. Reid has now declared these views are wholly acceptable in a Supreme Court nominee." The media and others should "hold [Reid] to that standard in the weeks and months ahead."

These senators embraced the conservative position on a number of abortion-related and other cultural issues, including the partial-birth abortion ban, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (the Laci Peterson law), a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and the Mexico City Policy, which forbids sending taxpayer dollars to foreign organizations that provide abortions or abortion counseling.

All the senators have received a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee in 2005 and, according to the American Conservative Union, their lifetime ratings range from 79% to 93%. From everything we know of Roberts so far, his ideological leanings place him comfortably within this range.

Moving the Goalposts

But rather than pre-clear Roberts, whose confirmation to the D.C. federal appeals court cleared the Senate in 2003 with virtually no opposition, Reid issued a terse statement acknowledging "the President has chosen someone with suitable legal credentials," but adding that "the Senate must review Judge Roberts' record to determine if he has a demonstrated commitment to the core American values of freedom, equality and fairness."

Perhaps Reid is simply being cautious. But given the overwhelming influence that hard-left groups such as People For the American Way and the American Civil Liberties Union exert over today's Democratic Party, perhaps he's moving the goalposts in preparation for a sustained assault on a very admirable selection for our highest court.

UN-Ambiguous

To withhold or not to withhold. That is the question.

Last month, the House passed the Henry J. Hyde UN Reform Act, a robust and long-overdue attempt to impose financial and moral accountability on the United Nations. The legislation would make our annual contribution to UN operations (expected to total $439 million in 2006) contingent on the UN's adopting at least 32 of 39 proposed reforms.

Examples of the proposed reforms include:

  • Giving the U.S. more influence over budgetary decision-making.
  • Imposing sunset policies and results-based budgeting on UN programs.
  • Taking a swipe at the $565 million the UN spends annually on elaborate conferences replete with champagne, chauffeurs and shrimp.
  • Establishing a truly independent oversight board to investigate rampant fraud and misconduct.

House Democrats objected not to Hyde's devastatingly accurate critique or to the specific reforms in his bill, but rather to the mechanism he proposed to leverage reform-the mandatory withholding of taxpayer funds should the reforms not transpire. The Democratic point man on UN reform in the House, Tom Lantos, ranking member of the International Relations Committee, offered a watered-down and ultimately unsuccessful, alternative that would have given the secretary of State discretion to release the funds, reforms or no reforms.

Now the issue moves to a reluctant Senate, where Senators Norm Coleman (R.-Minn.) and Richard Lugar (R.-Ind.) have introduced a bill (S 1383) that closely resembles the Hyde bill. It also sets forth a powerful indictment of the UN and demands similar reforms.

Unfortunately, the Coleman-Lugar proposal is masquerading as reform. Rather than require that taxpayer contributions be withheld, the legislation takes its cue from House Democrats and merely requires the United States to "use its voice and vote at the United Nations" to pursue meaningful reforms. As with the House Democratic plan, withholding funds is an option, not a requirement, and entirely subject to the whim of the President.

California GOP Rep. Dana Rohrbacher's critique of this approach says it best: "If they're opposed to withholding dues, they are not for reform."

Withhold. That is the answer.

Mike Franc, who has held a number of positions on Capitol Hill, is vice president of Government Relations at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Michael Franc Distinguished Fellow
Government Studies

Related Issues: Legal Issues

First appeared in Human Events