There are a few encouraging signs that my dear old Republican Party may be returning to its roots.
This is the party I grew up in -- a party that was wary of too much government but insisted that vital public needs be adequately funded and competently handled. Members of the old GOP did not vote lockstep on virtually every issue, but studied the issues and exercised independent judgement. I have seen some stirrings lately that indicate a possible return to those days.
My mentor and former boss, Sen. Len Jordan, who served our state as governor (1950-1954) and later as senator (1962-1972), set the example for me. Although there were some party-line votes while he was in the Senate, he was a rugged individualist who followed his own moral compass in representing Idaho and the nation.
Jordan would never have voted to confirm a nominee for a federal judge position who was not qualified, no matter how politically connected the person was. He bucked his own president on two appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court -- Clement Haynsworth and Harold Carswell -- finding both to be unqualified for that lofty position after independently studying their records. We have seen very little of that lately from the party Jordan loved.
But, low and behold, Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, recently refused to support two federal judicial candidates that the American Bar Association (ABA) found to be “unqualified” to sit on the federal bench. One of them, Brett Talley of Alabama, was nominated for a lifetime district court position even though he had practiced law for less than three years and never tried a case. His only claims to fame were operating a political blog and being married to a woman who worked for the president’s White House Counsel. Although Talley was approved on a party-line vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Kennedy jumped ship to oppose Talley when it was discovered that he had failed to disclose his wife’s job and the potential conflict of interest. Sen. Kennedy said he would vote against Talley “in a heartbeat--twice if I can.” Thanks in large part to his principled stand, Talley’s nomination was withdrawn.
It is important to put individuals with strong experience on the federal bench because those judges handle serious civil and criminal cases. It is not the place for an inexperienced rookie or political hack. The ABA performs a valuable role in evaluating and rating candidates and should not be ignored.
Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, provided the other ray of hope when he said he could not vote for Roy Moore for a seat representing his state in the U.S. Senate. Besides being the subject of credible allegations of molesting teenage girls, Moore had been kicked off of the Alabama Supreme Court twice for defying the law of the land. A judge can disagree with the law but he or she takes a solemn oath to uphold it and commits a serious breach of that oath by claiming to be above the law. Sen. Shelby’s courageous stand harkens back to the ethics of the party that I remember from years ago.
This is not to say that the other party does not also engage in party-line tactics, but it is not the party in power now and the leaders set the tone. It is time for the GOP to get back to its past ethical standards--the standards set by Abraham Lincoln, the GOP’s founder. I think he would approve of the recent independent thinking of senators Kennedy and Shelby, but be disheartened by the no-compromise, take-no-prisoners attitude too often exhibited by many of the others.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice