Washington Conservatives Criticize Leahy

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy’s job as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is coming under fire. Three conservative lawyers from around the country flew to Vermont Monday to accuse Leahy of delaying action on President Bush’s nominees to the federal bench. They say Leahy may be guilty of religious bigotry for allegedly shutting the door on conservative Christian judges.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) In Washington, conservatives have pounded on Leahy and the Judiciary Committee for weeks. On Monday, the groups took the issue to Leahy’s backyard.

Ken Connor is the president of the Family Research Council. He says that as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leahy has used a political litmus test to screen out conservative judges:

(Connor) "Now, Senator Leahy has accused President Bush of nominating ideologues…. Well frankly, being called an ideologue by Senator Leahy is a little like being called ugly by a frog. The reality is that Senator Leahy is an ideologue who has been dragooned into service of radical left wing groups like the National Abortion Rights Action League, the National Organization of Women … and People for the American Way."

(Dillon) Connor says Leahy is unfairly discriminating against judges who hold Christian or conservative views:

(Connor) "There’s been increasingly concerns that have been raised about potential religious bigotry on the part of Senator Leahy, because it seems that people of faith need not apply and if you do, you’re not going to get a hearing before this senator."

(Dillon) Former Attorney General Edwin Meese, who served in the Reagan Administration, was also in Vermont. Meese says he hopes Vermonters listen to the Washington-based Family Research Council:

(Meese) "This hasn’t been a big issue in Vermont and we think the people of Vermont ought to recognize what the situation is in Washington. It is not true that this goes on all the time. While you may have some controversies over judgeships all the time… we’ve never had a situation like this before."

(Dillon) But Leahy has said that the Democrats’ record of processing judicial nominees is better than the Republicans, who controlled the committee in the late 1990s.

Chuck Ross is the director of Leahy’s Vermont office. He welcomed the lawyers with maple syrup and a Ben & Jerry’s Peace Pop. But Ross says charges made by the Family Research Council aren’t accurate:

(Ross) "Frankly, as a Vermonter I found it pretty insulting, the insinuations that were alleged around lying, around religious bigotry. I think Vermonters who know Patrick Leahy, know Patrick Leahy is a very devout man and he takes his job as the Senate judiciary chair very seriously. He wants to see good people in those positions and he will work for the American public to make sure we have good people serving in the judiciary."

(Dillon) The Council calls the visit to Vermont part of the "flying truth squad." The group will visit other states where Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in South Burlington.

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