Strom Thurmond, a few months away from 100 years of age and retirement, has seen many changes during his 48-year career in the U.S. Senate, not all of them for the better. He touched on one of the saddest changes this week in what may have been his last speech on the floor of the Senate. It concerned a colleague.
It used to be axiomatic that when a U.S. senator gave his word you could take it to the bank. Thurmond lamented the fact that's no longer true - at least not as far as Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is concerned.
Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, had promised that he would give a green light for the committee to vote on the nomination of former Thurmond aide and fellow South Carolinian, federal Judge Dennis Shedd to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Then at the last moment, Leahy blocked it.
"I took you at your word," an angry, disappointed Thurmond told the chairman. "In 48 years in the Senate, I have never been treated in such a manner."
Leahy said he had to renege on his vow because the nomination was becoming too contentious. That's nonsense. Leahy, who is also committed to stopping President George W. Bush's appeals court nominees in his Democratic-led committee, knew that Shedd had picked up at least one Democratic vote - enough to send the nomination to the full Senate where there are plenty of bipartisan votes to confirm.
The Wall Street Journal agrees with Thurmond that Leahy broke new ground with his broken promise. "Refusing to vote on a nominee who has had his confirmation hearing and has been scheduled for markup in committee is entirely unprecedented," said the newspaper.
But the broader point is that after nearly half a century in the U.S. Senate, Thurmond has to leave with a knife in his back. How sad that one of his last memories of Congress has to be a bitter one.