It was clear earlier this year that something was up when U.S. Sen. Harry Reid again nominated District Judge Elissa Cadish for the federal bench.
Reid isn’t known for fruitless gestures as much as behind-the-scenes dealmaking that more often than not breeds success.
Cadish’s nomination ran into trouble last year, when U.S. Sen. Dean Heller refused to sign a “blue slip” that would allow the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider her nomination.
If you’re scratching your head about that, don’t feel badly about your knowledge of the process. Although we were all taught in high school that courtesy allows a state’s senior senator of the president’s party to suggest judicial nominees, there’s a catch. A Senate tradition — followed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. — bars a nomination from being considered until both senators from that state sign a “blue slip.” That document doesn’t commit a senator to voting for or against a nomination, but rather indicates a senator’s opinion of the nominee.
In this case, Heller’s opinion isn’t high. Back in 2008, Cadish filled out a candidate questionnaire from a group called Citizens for Responsible Government. In reply to a question asking whether citizens have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms, Cadish wrote, “I do not believe there is this constitutional right,” and that reasonable restrictions can be imposed on gun ownership in the interest of public safety.
Although Cadish also pledged to enforce the existing laws — and although she later said she’d give a different reply if asked the question today, in light of more recent U.S. Supreme Court precedents — Heller was unmoved. The senator asserted there is an individual right to own weapons under the Second Amendment.
It’s worth saying that Heller is absolutely right on this point, and that’s not just my opinion. The Supreme Court held in two recent cases that individuals possess the right to firearms ownership under the Second Amendment, and that right cannot be infringed by state and local governments.
Although Reid spoke with Leahy about the blue slip policy — an extra-constitutional notion that doesn’t have the force of Senate rules or laws — the chairman wouldn’t budge. And so Cadish’s nomination expired at the end of the last Congress.
But that’s when Reid suggested that President Obama re-nominate Cadish for the present Congress, which the president did.
And on Wednesday, after a meeting of Nevada’s entire congressional delegation, Reid hinted that a deal is in the works. “We’re not going to talk about that,” the senator said, according to the Review-Journal’s Steve Tetreault. “That is something we do among ourselves. That is something we are trying to work out on our own.”
But Heller’s position on Cadish has not changed since last year, and the senator is no closer to signing that blue slip today than he was when the issue first surfaced. And that’s true despite pressure he’s been feeling from outside Washington, D.C. Sources have said that Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson — whose super-PAC largesse helped Heller win election last year — has weighed in asking Heller to reconsider, to no avail.
Politically, it would be difficult for Heller to relent under ordinary circumstances. But add in the pressure from gun-rights groups in the wake of renewed efforts for gun control following the Connecticut school shooting, and it’s downright impossible.
On the other hand, there’s no question whatsoever that Cadish is an exceptionally well-qualified judge who — no matter her personal views on gun rights — has promised to do exactly what a federal district judge must, which is apply the law as interpreted by higher courts. Cadish’s colleagues, former employers and lawyers all agree on her credentials.
So the standoff continues. But Harry Reid clearly has a plan.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or email@example.com.