Everyone knows Jim Cooper doesn’t do earmarks.
The congressman, who represents Tennessee’s 5th District, is an avowed earmark-slayer; not only does he rail against them at every opportunity, Cooper stubbornly refuses to play the game for Nashville, which has delighted purists and peeved players throughout Davidson County during his eight years in office.
But Cooper’s guiding principle finally seems to have won out — at least when it comes to our new federal courthouse. (That’d be the courthouse we’ve needed since 1992, when the federal government first deemed Estes Kefauver Federal Courthouse at Seventh and Broadway inadequate.)
Due largely to the hustle of the Blue Dog Democrat, Nashville currently sits at No. 2 on the Judicial Conference’s five-year plan of ready-to-build courthouses; we’re set to receive our $173 million in federal funds next year. Perhaps just as importantly, though, Cooper and the House’s Courthouse Caucus, of which he is co-chair, appear to be succeeding in reinvigorating a federal selection process that had given way to the political maneuverings of a deeply cynical Congress.
“You could call the Courthouse Caucus the anti-earmark caucus,” Cooper told The City Paper. “The purpose of it is to have federal building decisions based on the merits, where the real need is, instead of where the political arm-twisting that takes place [is].”
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has a system for analyzing the need for courthouses based on various factors, including the number of trials held there, the general safety and post-9/11 security of the building, and the ability to conduct a proper trial.
According to a report released in May by the Government Accountability Office, more than a quarter of the overall space in the 33 courthouses built since 2000 is excessive, and 27 exceed the size authorized by Congress when their funding was appropriated.
Cooper is expected to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the matter Wednesday.
“I believe that good guys win in the end, and virtue triumphs,” he said, breaking into a chuckle. “It just takes a little longer than it should.”