Filibuster change damages courts, federal appeals judge says in op-ed

A federal appeals judge fears last week’s change in Senate filibuster rules will harm the judiciary because it will become easier for ideologues to win approval to the bench.

Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III expressed his views in a Washington Post op-ed. “Now, even those with the most rigid and absolute beliefs can spend a lifetime on the federal bench without a scintilla of bipartisan support,” Wilkinson writes.

Wilkinson says colleagues on the Richmond, Va.-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have a “thoughtful and reflective approach to the law,” and “I like to think that the bipartisan support these judges attracted has had a great deal to do with the quality of our discussions.”

“Ideologues pose a unique risk for courts,” Wilkinson writes. “Judicial institutions run on custom and practice as well as rules, and the public depends on a certain judicial dispassion, which recognizes the difference between disagreement on substance and fraying the very understandings by which we operate. Taking disagreements personally, believing oneself in sole and permanent possession of the truth can, in countless ways, delay dispositions and corrode the quality of justice. This is one thing a bipartisan confirmation process has, for decades, helped to prevent.”

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog (sub. req.) notes the op-ed and reports that Wilkinson’s 1984 confirmation battle “was among the fiercest of the Reagan years.” Democrats were unable to sustain a filibuster and Wilkinson was approved in a 58-39 vote.

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