The Times' July 12 editorial, "Reject the 'Thurmond Rule,'" omitted key facts. It ignored the most active proponent of the rule: the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But since The Times' editorial board writes about this issue only during Democratic presidential administrations -- while ignoring it during Republican years -- this should not have come as a surprise.
The rule refers to a Senate practice of slowing down judicial confirmations in the months leading up to a presidential election so the American people can decide who they want making these important lifetime appointments. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service traces the practice to events supposedly occurring in the run-up to the 1980 election, not in 1968, as The Times claims. The CRS is clear that the biggest proponent of the rule was not the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), but rather the current Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee. And even Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has never claimed, as The Times did, that the Leahy-Thurmond Rule -- as in fairness it should be called -- was begun by Thurmond after Abe Fortas' nomination as chief justice of the Supreme Court.
According to the Senate historian as well as a 1990 article in The Times, the bipartisan opposition to the Fortas nomination centered on concerns about cronyism. Fortas had long been regarded as then-President Johnson's "fixer." As a sitting justice he had counseled the president on policy, pressured senators on political matters, divulged to the White House confidential court deliberations and had received private payments that amounted to 40% of his salary. Asked about these matters, Fortas was less than forthright with the Judiciary Committee. Not surprisingly, senators from both parties -- including 19 Democrats -- opposed ending debate on that nomination. (The leader of the opposition to Fortas was Republican Sen. Robert Griffin of Michigan, not Thurmond.)