A lesson from Jack Kemp on the importance of standing up for principle.
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Conservatives view this statement as a reason someone runs for the legislative body in the American system — or for president. The role of a judge is to interpret the law, not create it out of whole cloth to appease a political sentiment of the judge of the moment. Empathy is for presidents, congressmen, senators, governors, state legislators and city council members.
Judges are about the law.
Liberals favor judges perhaps best described by Mark Levin in his bestselling book Men in Black as “radicals in robes.” They reject out of hand the belief that the federal judiciary has a narrow and decidedly limited role as prescribed by the Constitution. As Levin notes, liberal judges have taken upon themselves the running of school systems, prisons, private sector hiring and firing practices, farm quotas, the raising of property taxes, the granting of benefits to illegal immigrants, the expulsion of God, prayers and the Ten Commandments from the public square, limited political speech, protected child pornography and…well, you get Levin’s point. It goes straight to the heart of the conservative case against activist judges.
So the question here is: Will Republicans and conservatives in the United States Senate have the courage to do what Jack Kemp did time after time after time: state their conservative principles, and then with a smile — and the smile is important — go fight for them? Regardless of the odds. To do precisely what, for that matter, both Obama and Biden themselves have done: Obama on two out of two Supreme Court votes in his brief Senate career and Biden relentlessly since 1987.
By now it is surely recognized that conservatives are engaged in a long, drawn-out fight over the shape and direction of the federal judiciary. One might even say that conservatives are winning for the moment by a margin of 5-4.
One Supreme Court confirmation defeat does not a lost war make. No one can foresee the future. No one knows what will happen tomorrow, let alone five years or twenty down the judicial pike. But we all know — or should know — that Jack Kemp was right: fighting hard for matters of principle is never a losing proposition.
It will be much noted in the next few days just how much of an impact Jack Kemp has made on his party, his country and the world. But perhaps one of the thousand Kemp stories making the rounds among his friends and admirers is this one as reported from the Associated Press (with a hat tip here to Rich Galen’s Mullings):
The Detroit Lions picked Kemp in the 17th round of the 1957 NFL draft, but he was cut before the season began. After being released by three more NFL teams and the Canadian Football League over the next three years, he joined the AFL’s Los Angeles Chargers as a free agent in 1960. A waiver foul-up two years later would land him with the Bills, who got him at the bargain price of $100.
What this paragraph only hints at is that Kemp was told a number of times that he should give up his dream of playing professional football. That he didn’t quite have what it takes. But he hung in there. He ignored the critics. He was cut even before the season began by the Lions — and kept going. He was shunted off to the Canadian Football League for three years — and he kept going. He made it to the Chargers, — only to be, through “a waiver foul-up,” sent to Buffalo — not exactly the star New York team in the big New York town with the Broadway lights. But Kemp went to work and made the Bills a star team, and in doing so made himself a star quarterback as well. He never, ever gave in. He would, years later, hold up his throwing-hand to his staff and joke about his famously fused finger. His hand had been crushed in a game, and the doctors told him the finger joints would have to be fused. Kemp’s response? He told them to fuse the finger as it would be when wrapped around a football, leaving him with a finger permanently poised to throw a pass.
By the time he made his way to Congress he did the same with the conservative movement and supply-side economics. Kemp’s principles were as fused as that finger. The critics were legion, but he kept going. He never took no for an answer. And in time, the conservative quarterback threw so many conservative philosophical and political touchdowns he changed the world.
There is much sighing and gnashing of teeth among conservatives about a Supreme Court nomination in the hands of President Obama as well as a liberal majority in the Senate. Arlen Specter switched parties! What if Al Franken wins! Horrors!
This is no way to deal with the situation.
It’s time to fight. To understand that this one battle over a Supreme Court seat may be lost, but it is most certainly one battle worth fighting. It is a golden opportunity. Now is exactly the time for Republicans in the United States Senate, not to mention that by-now keenly alert coalition of conservative activists who work so hard on these issues, to take to heart Jack Kemp’s advice to his kids. When President Obama steps forward with his nominee for the Supreme Court, just smile. Be polite. Be nice. Be ready. Be organized. Deliver every Republican Senate vote that can be had in favor of a conservative judicial philosophy. Make this fight a statement of principle. Stand and deliver.
Remember Jack Kemp’s fused finger and throw the conservative long ball, the odds be damned.
As this next Court fight arrives, Kemp’s words resonate: Be a leader.
(Mr. Lord, a former aide to HUD Secretary Kemp, is the author of The Borking Rebellion, a book on judicial nomination fights.)
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