The Knox Update
From the Firearms Coalition
Who’s Haunted now?
By Jeff Knox
(January 29, 2009) When Barack Obama announced that he intended to nominate Eric Holder to be his Attorney General, we at The Firearms Coalition launched an aggressive campaign to block the appointment and urged all other Second Amendment organizations to do likewise. Holder was Janet Reno’s top deputy in the Clinton administration and has proven himself to be a radical opponent to the rights of firearms owners. Holder has not only testified before Congress in support of expanded restrictions on firearms ownership, he signed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in DC v. Heller in which he espoused the theory that the Second Amendment’s “right of the people to keep and bear arms” is actually a right of the states to organize militias. Someone with such twisted opinions about the Constitution should not even be considered for the position of Attorney General.
The controversy over the confirmation of Holder is reminiscent of a confirmation battle that took place back in 1979. When Representative Abner Mikva (D-IL) was appointed to a seat on the Federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, under the leadership of Neal Knox, engaged in a full court press to block the appointment. When asked by a reporter why the NRA was fighting so hard against him, Mikva, a leading proponent of gun control, said that he believed the NRA wanted to send a message to other politicians that if they step out to lead the fight for gun control the NRA will haunt them to the grave. The reporter then went to Neal Knox and asked him what he thought of Mikva’s assessment. Knox said he felt Mikva had an accurate understanding of the situation. Beyond the message of dogging enemies though was a genuine concern that Judge Abner Mikva could be more of a threat to gunowners than could Congressman Abner Mikva – especially since Mikva was on Jimmy Carter’s short list for the next opening on the Supreme Court. Had Carter won a second term, Mikva’s experience on the Court of Appeals would have made successful opposition to a Supreme Court appointment virtually impossible.
As a sitting member of Congress, Mikva’s confirmation was expected to go very smoothly. But Neal Knox had other ideas and the opposition from NRA and gunowners delayed the confirmation vote for six months and came within two votes of completely derailing the appointment. But as the vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee drew near, a conflict developed between NRA and the Republican leadership in the Senate. Republicans wanted Mikva out of the way because they believed that Republican John Porter, who had come in a close second to Mikva in the last election, could easily win the seat.
Senator Bob Dole called NRA Executive Vice-President Harlon Carter to complain about Knox forcing Republican Senators to go against their own party’s interests in opposing the Mikva confirmation. Carter made a deal with Dole that while NRA would continue to oppose Mikva’s confirmation, they would not use any confirmation votes to grade politicians. Shortly thereafter the Judiciary Committee voted to recommend confirmation by a vote of 9 to 6. When Carter learned of the closeness of the vote he exclaimed, “We could have won that.” Knox was not happy. The appointment went on to approval in the full Senate with a vote of 58 to 31 with 17 Republicans voting for confirmation – another winnable margin. (John Porter did win Mikva’s vacated seat and was the most anti-gun Republican in the House from 1980 until his retirement in 2001.)
By agreeing not to use the confirmation vote in grading, Carter effectively removed the only threat supporting NRA’s opposition. The hard political truth is that the only reliable motivator for politicians is pain, and pain to a politician means votes. A politician who is rated “A” by NRA knows that the “A” can represent anywhere from 2 to 6 percentage points in an election. Being downgraded from an “A” to a “B” can seriously hurt a politician’s future prospects, particularly if his opponent has a good grade as well. Removing grading from a vote removes any threat of pain and abdicates power.
This truth impacted the fight against Holder as well. As with the Mikva appointment, shortly before the Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote NRA reached an understanding with Senate leaders that they would not use the confirmation votes for grading. They then sent letters to Senators expressing their reservations about Holder and asking them to keep NRA’s views in mind when they voted. The power of that request from NRA, when not backed up by a political threat, was clearly demonstrated by the 17 – 2 Judiciary Committee vote in which 6 of 8 A-rated Senators on the committee voted to recommend confirmation.
So much for haunting enemies to their graves.
Permission to reprint or post this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes is hereby granted provided this credit is included. Text is available at www.FirearmsCoalition.org. To receive The Firearms Coalition’s bi-monthly newsletter, The Hard Corps Report, write to PO Box 3313, Manassas, VA 20108.
©Copyright 2008 Neal Knox Associates