The field of credible Democrats running for President was significantly narrowed today when two rumored candidates insulted every employed woman, every woman in business, and every woman who has been a victim of violence in this country. In casting their votes to promote Judge D. Brooks Smith to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, only one step below the Supreme Court, rumored candidates Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) disregarded the extensive evidence of unethical behavior and discriminatory conduct that caused The Washington Post, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times to oppose Smith’s confirmation.
In an embarrassingly convoluted rationale, Biden expressed disappointment in Smith’s strong criticism of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), but said it would be a “double standard” to vote against Smith because Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist held a similar opinion on VAWA.
Apparently Biden doesn’t recall that his vote for Rehnquist was cast many years before VAWA was even introduced. As for a “double standard,” someone should tell Sen. Biden that double nothing is still nothing.
Biden’s previous leadership on violence against women is just that – previous. He has jettisoned it in favor of friendship – his stated presumption of supporting any nominee sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). No doubt the people of Delaware will want to know that they have elected a Republican from Pennsylvania to represent them.
Another presidential wanna-be, Sen. Edwards, hid out in his office across the hall from the hearing, and didn’t even have the courage to cast his “Yes” vote in public. Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-Wisc.) joined all of the committee Republicans, whose cowardly votes betrayed the women of their states by recommending elevation of a judge whose repeated “ethical lapses” deserve censure, not promotion.
The Senate’s reputation as an “Old Boys Club” was reinforced by today’s vote, in which both of the women on the Judiciary Committee voted against Smith, but he won anyway because 12 of the 17 men voted in his favor. To promote a judge who will have to decide on cases of discrimination, when that judge has himself cavalierly participated in discrimination and even ruled in favor of discriminatory practices, is the height of irresponsibility by those who are charged with that duty.
NOW commends both of the women who serve on the Judiciary Committee, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), whose votes against confirming Smith spoke volumes, as well as Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who spoke eloquently about discrimination against women, and Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
NOW intends to seek a filibuster in the Senate against Judge Smith’s confirmation, and will urge every senator to participate who cares about protecting the last 40 years of progress women have made. The Judiciary Committee’s vote for D. Brooks Smith made a mockery of judicial standards. Unless the full Senate reverses, it will send a message to women that they can’t expect to have civil rights – or ethics – taken seriously by the Senate or the courts.
Kim Gandy is the president of the National Organization for Women.