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The big stall

It has been nearly six months since Florida Chief Justice Rosemary Barkett, a "decent, caring, experienced and intelligent jurist," was nominated to a vacancy on a federal appeals court. She's still waiting for the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote on her confirmation. Clarence Thomas, for all the serious questions dogging him, was confirmed and seated in less time. Do you get the feeling there's a double standard somewhere?

The praises quoted above, by the way, were spoken by Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., when he announced his decision to support Barkett's nomination. But while they surely must have reached the ears of Mack's conservative Republican colleagues Robert Dole, Strom Thurmond and Orrin Hatch, they appear to have failed to penetrate their senatorial consciences. They're stalling action on Barkett's confirmation, and they're doing it for the pettiest of political reasons. It is calculated to make the Clinton administration appear "soft" on crime, and it also plays to a far-right gallery, led by the extravagantly misnamed Free Congress Foundation, that is hell-bent on making Barkett a sacrificial victim to its extreme ideology.

These are the same senators who fell over their well-shod feet to confirm Attorney General Janet Reno despite her avowed opposition to the death penalty, yet they are making a litmus test of Barkett's presumed skepticism even though Barkett has voted to affirm more than 200 Florida death sentences. To call this hypocrisy is to dignify it. Reno was too visible, and too popular at the time, to be hectored. But Barkett's name is not on the nation's lips, and her prospective office is only to a circuit court of appeals, so Mssrs. Dole, Thurmond and Hatch have become emboldened. Most Washington insiders still maintain that Barkett will be confirmed eventually, but the word also is out that her backers have been warned, as one source put it, that "knives were sharpened."

It is not just Barkett, of course, who is being used cruelly by the Senate's Byzantine ways. When Dole took the Senate floor to accuse Barkett, without warning, of "fuzzy thinking," he was in effect insulting the sizable majority of Florida voters who retained her in office two years ago. Meanwhile, the judgeship she would fill on the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has been vacant four years now, at real inconvenience to the processes of federal justice in Florida, Alabama and Georgia, and the people of those states are entitled to see the seat occupied.

Bob Dole, get your fingers out of your ears and your thumb out of Florida's eye. Listen to Connie Mack. Confirm Rosemary Barkett.