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Letters: Debating the 'Thurmond Rule'

July 18, 2012

Re "The 'Thurmond Rule,'" Editorial, July 12

Your editorial omitted pertinent facts.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service traces the practice of slowing down judicial confirmations shortly before a presidential election to events supposedly occurring prior to the 1980 election — not in 1968, as you claimed. The service is clear that the biggest proponent of that practice was not then-Sen. Strom Thurmond but the current Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Senate Democrats do not want to follow the rule now that their party occupies the White House. But The Times should note that the Senate is treating President Obama's judicial nominees much better than it treated President Bush's. It already has confirmed 152 of his lower-court nominees, compared to only 119 of Bush's under similar circumstances.

Although The Times barely mentions it, the real problem is that the White House has failed to submit nominees for more than half the vacancies.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa)

McConnell is the Senate minority leader; Grassley is the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Times correctly states that the "Thurmond Rule" is not a real rule and has received varying application. For example, Democrats have never invoked the rule against the appellate court nominees of a Republican president as early as McConnell did this year against Obama's nominees.

Most critically, the rule's namesake violated it the year of its inception. In 1980, after Jimmy Carter had lost to Ronald Reagan, Sen. Edward Kennedy persuaded Thurmond to allow a Senate vote on U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals nomineeStephen G. Breyer, who had been Judiciary Committee counsel.

Carl Tobias

Richmond, Va.

The writer is a professor of law at the University of Richmond.

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