Democrats Hold Judicial Nominations for 406 Days...

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Democrats Hold Judicial Nominations for 406 Days and Counting
By Christine Hall
CNSNews.com Staff Writer
June 21, 2002

(CNSNews.com) - Senate Democrats have held up hearings for the president's 46 judicial nominees for 406 days and counting.

Conservative groups, impatient with what they consider partisan delay and obstruction, staged a rally in front of the U.S. Capitol Thursday demanding that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) fulfill their constitutional duty by allowing the Senate to vote on the nominations.

Former Attorney General Edwin Meese called the problem a "judicial emergency" and "one of the most important causes facing the nation."

The chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has even spoken out about the number of appellate court vacancies wreaking havoc with the justice system's ability to process outstanding cases in a timely fashion, Meese noted.

There are now 89 vacancies on federal courts, including 31 on the U.S. Circuit Court.

"Leahy and Daschle continue to use obstructionist tactics against the president's nominees because the nominees believe that judges should interpret the law, not make it," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

But that's "a notion unacceptable to those left-wing organizations and senators who believe judges should usurp the power of the people and their elected representatives by making law themselves," said Keene.

He pointed to the failed nomination of Judge Charles W. Pickering, a Mississippi judge who was supported by the American Bar Association and a broad range of home-state supporters.

Romone Rodriguez of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce blasted Daschle and Leahy for delaying the nomination of Miguel Estrada, a former prosecutor and attorney who has argued 15 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. If confirmed, Estrada would be the first Hispanic judge to serve on the Washington, D.C. court of appeals.

"It is entirely appropriate for senators to question Estrada about his legal career," said Rodriguez. "But to defeat his nomination through stealth attacks is fundamentally unfair."

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Daschle said there is no agreement between the two parties on how and when to proceed with the judicial nominations. "The talks are ongoing, and ... our staffs had a productive discussion ... yesterday afternoon and last night.

"I would hope we could reach an agreement before the end of next week, but we're not there yet," he said.

Just 55 percent of Bush judges have won Senate confirmation, compared to 90 percent of former President Clinton's picks in his first Congress.

In May, Daschle warned that the Senate would not confirm "without question the nominations of people whose views and records put them outside of the mainstream, or those who show hostility to settled law," he said, with reference to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision on abortion.

He noted that out of 57 Bush nominees considered by the Judiciary Committee, only one - Pickering - was rejected.

During the Clinton administration, when Republicans gained control of the Senate, Democrats similarly accused the other party of partisan delay tactics on Clinton nominees.

"For too long this Congress has been standing still on some of our most pressing national priorities," Clinton said in his 2000 state of the union address. "I ask you to vote up or down on judicial nominations and other important appointees."

At the time, Republicans were incensed by Clinton's habit of making recess appointments for controversial nominees, rather than allowing them to go through the constitutional process of Senate confirmation.

In fact, 17 senators warned Clinton that further surprise recess appointments would result in "holds" placed on his judicial nominees for the rest of 2000.

But John Nowacki of the Free Congress Foundation says there's a big difference between then and now.

"Usually what you get between two administrations is you get hold ups in the last few months of the last year, where there's a presidential election coming up," he said. "In the early part of the Clinton administration, his appointees sailed through pretty easily.

"There has been a real change in the way the Senate deals with judicial nominations," Nowacki said. Now, he said, there's an increase in personal attacks on nominees, such as Pickering.

"The Democratic leadership in the Senate is applying a litmus test checking with liberal special interest groups for approval and putting these nominees through difficult hurdles," added Jim Martin, president of the 60 Plus Association, a senior advocacy group.

"Seniors who live in the communities where these vacancies occur are not being given their rights," he said.
 


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