Bush judicial nominee excoriated for all-male fishing club ex-membership: Senator silent on Sotomayor’s all-female power club.
In 2002 Vermont Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy, then as now the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was a vocal opponent of Bush Third Circuit Court nominee D. Brooks Smith because of Smith’s former membership in an all-male fishing club in Pennsylvania.
Today, Leahy is silent on the membership of Obama Supreme Court nominee and sitting Second Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor in the Belizean Grove, an elite, all-female club. In a recent story, Politico.com described the Belizean Grove “as the female answer to the Bohemian Grove — a secretive all-male club whose members have included former U.S. presidents and top business leaders — the Belizean Grove has about 125 members, including Army generals, Wall Street executives and former ambassadors.”
Which is another way of saying, no men allowed. The Belizean Grove quite deliberately and unashamedly discriminates on the basis of gender.
And the response from the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee?
Yet in 2002 he couldn’t stop talking about his thought that Smith’s one-time fishing club membership was sufficient grounds to deny Smith a seat on the Third Circuit. Nor has there been a word of concern from other Smith critics of the day, including New York’s Senator Charles Schumer. Schumer demanded information from Smith about his ex-membership in the club in his written questions to the judge — just at the time the National Organization for Women went public with an attack portraying Smith as a judge whose one time membership in the fishing club showed conclusively that he was biased towards women.
As it happens, I would know something about this subject, writing a 2005 book on the Smith episode (alas, now out of print) called The Borking Rebellion. Smith, a college classmate and friend of mine, had served for fourteen, unblemished years as a Reagan-appointee to the Western District of Pennsylvania. By 2001, the year of his nomination by George W. Bush for a seat on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Smith was the Chief Judge of the Western District. With the highest ratings from the American Bar Association, well regarded as a fair and impartial jurist by his Western Pennsylvania community (the Court was headquartered in Pittsburgh), and with the support of both Pennsylvania’s Senators of the time, conservative Rick Santorum and liberal Arlen Specter, Smith’s nomination had not an iota of controversy about it.
Until, that is, his nomination arrived in the highly charged partisan precincts of the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired then as now by Leahy. Smith’s fight was won — narrowly — and he sits on the Third Circuit today. But the fight to confirm him for the job was fierce. Two other nominations at the same period did not survive — the D.C. Appeals Court nominee, Miguel Estrada (denied confirmation, according to leaked Senate Democratic documents, because he was a “Latino” and “therefore “dangerous), and Fifth Circuit nominee Judge Charles Pickering.
Here are the facts.
In 1988, a Reagan nominee for the Western District, already a sitting Pennsylvania state judge, Smith belonged to his grandfather’s all-male fishing club, the Spruce Creek Rod and Gun Club. A large, ramshackle facility sitting among the rolling hills of rural Hungtingdon County, Spruce Creek was a social club, specifically designated as such by the U.S. government in its National Register of Historic Places. It had no bar — members had to bring their own alcohol if they wished a drink — and its bedrooms were filled, camp-style, with old bunk beds. The dining room resembled a kids camp with large wooden tables and benches. The paint peeled. There was nothing fancy here, large as an old barnlike structure it may be.
As I well knew, both as Judge Smith’s friend and from visiting the place, the Judge was not a frequent visitor. Unlike his grandfather, the Judge was something of a workaholic. He could fish — but wasn’t one to frequent Spruce Creek and stand around mid-stream rod in hand. His membership was sentimental. Asked at his 1988 confirmation hearing if he would work to end the all-male gender membership barrier, Smith promised he would do so. He did just that, trying and failing several times to get the club to admit women as members (they were already allowed as wives or guests.) In 1999, between his infrequent visits with his wife and consistent rebuffs from the club leaders about allowing women in as members, Smith finally quit.
By 2002, as Leahy, Schumer, and others were busy colluding behind the scenes with left-wing special interest groups to savage Bush judicial nominees, Smith’s now ex-membership became a target. Submitting his written questions to Smith, Schumer’s 6th question concerned Spruce Creek. It had no sooner arrived on Smith’s desk than, mysteriously, a corresponding attack from the National Organization for Women appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While it never mentioned Schumer’s question to Smith, the attack tracked with the points raised in Schumer’s question. When this was noted by a Smith supporter in a response, NOW denied any collusion, then proceeded to comment on the substance of Schumer’s question — which it had previously claimed not to have seen and which was still sitting atop the “privacy” of Smith’s desk.
The attack was beaten back to considerable degree because of an interesting fact neither Leahy nor Schumer knew. On the wall of the club was a photograph of Marine One landing at Spruce Creek. That would be the official helicopter of the President of the United States. The president in question was a Spruce Creek devotee — Jimmy Carter. Not only was the Democratic president responsible for appointing every federal judge in the country between 1977 and January of 1981 a frequent visitor to what Leahy and Schumer were painting as a sewer of gender discrimination, he was still coming there long after his White House days were over.
But this was not enough for Leahy. On July 30, 2002, in the Senate floor debate over Smith’s nomination, an angry Leahy said this:
If men want to go off and go fly fishing themselves, that is fine. If women want to go off and go fly fishing, that is fine. But when they have facilities to conduct business and when businesspeople go there to conduct business and that is how you may be able to get ahead in the business world if you exclude women from it, if you say, women, if you want to be in business, you are not going to be able to join the moguls of the business or legal community here, then it is exclusionary…. Spruce Creek invidiously discriminates against women.
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