Senate Republicans push Dems on judges

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Sen. Arlen Specter, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today urged Senate Democrats to approve three circuit court nominations before the Memorial Day recess next month.

Specter has threatened to stop Senate business if Democrats continue to refuse to address judicial nominations sent by President Bush.

Specter and McConnell sent a letter to their Democratic counterparts today on the matter. Here’s the full letter: 

April 29, 2008
Dear Senators Reid and Leahy:
We write to express our serious concern regarding statements made by Chairman Leahy during last week’s Judiciary Committee Executive Business Meeting. In discussing Senator Reid’s April 15, 2008 commitment[1] to confirm three more circuit court nominations before the Memorial Day recess, Senator Specter asked Chairman Leahy to clarify whether he was saying he would not honor the commitment if the scheduling was not “convenient for the two Michigan nominees.” In response, Chairman Leahy stated, “I will do everything possible to get it [done] by Memorial Day, but if the White House slow walks [the Michigan nominees’ paperwork], we probably won’t.”[2]
As we all know, there are several time-consuming steps in the judicial confirmation process, including a Federal Bureau of Investigation background investigation, the issuance of a rating by the American Bar Association (ABA), a hearing, questions for the nominee following the hearing, a Committee vote, and finally a floor vote. Given these standard prerequisites and Judge Helene White’s recent nomination date of April 15, 2008, we do not believe regular order and process will allow for her confirmation prior to May 23, 2008. In addition, the FBI is currently conducting a supplemental investigation for Mr. Raymond Kethledge, which must be completed prior to his hearing. Chairman Leahy’s statements insinuate that, if the Committee cannot process Judge White and Mr. Kethledge prior to the recess, then the straightforward commitment made by the Majority Leader and, by reference, Chairman Leahy will not be honored.
We would hope, given the likelihood that Judge White and Mr. Kethledge cannot be confirmed prior to the recess, that, in order to fulfill the commitment, Chairman Leahy would turn to other outstanding circuit court nominees pending in Committee who have been ready for hearings and waiting far longer than Judge White or Mr. Kethledge. As we have mentioned previously, Mr. Peter Keisler has already had a hearing and has been waiting for over 660 days for a simple Committee vote, and Judge Robert Conrad and Mr. Steve Matthews, nominees to the Fourth Circuit, are ready for hearings and have been waiting for many months. Both Judge Conrad and Mr. Matthews have enjoyed strong home-state support from their Senate delegations, one of whom is a valued member of the Committee. All three of these nominees deserve prompt consideration by the Committee and up-or-down votes by the full Senate.
It is simply a matter of fairness to include in the commitment, nominees who clearly can be processed and who have been ready for hearings and pending the longest. Further, we object to the selective importance that the Judiciary Committee is placing on home-state senatorial support. The Committee appears to view the support of Republican senators as a necessary, but insufficient, condition for their constituent nominees; while at the same time deeming dispositive the views of Democratic senators, either for or against a nominee. As the Majority Leader himself noted, such disparate treatment is patently unfair.[3]
The clock is ticking. It has now been two full weeks since your commitment to do ‘everything’ you could to confirm three more circuit court nominees by the Memorial Day recess. Yet since that commitment, the Committee has only scheduled one hearing for one circuit court nominee. More troubling still is the fact that the Chairman strongly intimated last week that the Committee may refuse to honor the commitment, not because it is impossible for it to do so, but because the Chairman’s preferred queue of nominees will not be ready in time due to the standard requirements of the FBI and the actions of a third party (the ABA), upon which the Democratic Majority has placed particular importance over the years.
If the Committee does not hold a hearing for two circuit court nominees prior to May 6, 2008, it is exceedingly unlikely that the Senate will be able to confirm at least three circuit court nominees prior to May 23, 2008, given the standard amount of time it takes to move a nomination through the steps in the confirmation process. In order to honor the commitment, we respectfully urge the Committee to schedule hearings for Judge Conrad and Mr. Matthews, and hold a Committee vote for Mr. Keisler as soon as possible.
We look forward to your response.
Sincerely,
Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican Leader
Senator Arlen Specter, Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee
[1] “Senator Leahy and I are going to do everything we can to approve three circuit court judges by Memorial Day. … Who knows, we may even get lucky and get more than that.\0x201D (Cong. Rec. S3013-14 (daily ed. Apr. 15, 2008) (statement of Sen. Reid)); see also id. at S3014 (“I will do everything within my power to get three judges approved to our circuits before the Memorial Day recess.”).
[2] “I will set a course. I will set the agenda. I will discuss it with my caucus. But, certainly, after waiting several years, the White House has it in their power to move very quickly by getting material up here. … I had a talk during the Easter Recess with the President’s counsel urging him to go forward and get the paperwork here and we can move. We will then schedule these. I will do everything possible to get it by Memorial Day, but if the White House slow walks it, we probably won’t.” Chairman Leahy, Senate Judiciary Committee Executive Business Meeting, April 24, 2008.
[3] “I say to my friend from Kentucky, no, it should not be because you have two from the same party from one State and they are not our party, that should not cause them not to have their nominee approved.” (Cong. Red. S3013 (daily ed. April 15, 2008) (statement of Sen. Reid)).

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