- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

With all attempts at compromise dead, the Senate will take up two of President Bush’s filibustered judicial nominations today and begin a historic showdown between the parties over the Senate’s role in confirming federal judges.

Republicans, led by Majority Leader Bill Frist, spent yesterday accusing Democrats of using “unprecedented” tactics to block nominees who have majority support in the Senate. They said the minority party is shirking its constitutional responsibility to provide “advice and consent” on judicial nominees by preventing final votes on them.

Democrats, led by Minority Leader Harry Reid, argued that by filibustering the nominees — whom they describe as conservative judicial activists far outside the mainstream — the Senate is officially registering its refusal to give consent.

“Well, it appears that we really have reached a moment of truth in the United States Senate this week,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat who said he’d still like to find a compromise.

“The announcement by Senator Frist and Senator Reid [Monday] afternoon that their discussions over avoiding the so-called nuclear option have failed present us now with this moment of truth and a challenge for every member of the United States Senate,” he said.

During the day, Republicans on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue met with the two nominees who will be debated on the Senate floor in the next two weeks.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit more than four years ago, and California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit nearly two years ago.

Both have been approved twice by the Senate Judiciary Committee in party-line votes.

While Justices Owen and Brown met privately with Mr. Bush in the White House yesterday, spokesman Scott McClellan said the issue is a simple constitutional principle.

“The role of the president is to appoint qualified individuals to the bench. The role of the Senate is to provide their advice and consent,” he said. “It’s not to provide advice and block. And what we have seen is that Senate Democrats are taking this to an unprecedented level, something we have not seen in … 214 years.”

Also invoking history, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said filibustering 10 of Mr. Bush’s nominees is his party’s “sacred responsibility.”

“This is not the first time in our nation’s history that a president of the United States wants more power,” he said, noting the “checks and balances” that were established between the executive and legislative branches. “It’s a natural thing in government, and the Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution understood it.”

After Mr. Frist brings the nomination of Justice Owen to the Senate floor today, senators on both sides of the aisle will debate the nominations of both Justice Owen and Justice Brown. Republicans have said the two are qualified nominees whom most Americans will find appealing.

Near the end of the week, Mr. Frist will file for “cloture,” his notice that he will move in coming days to close the debate on Justice Owen.

“Absent resolution of this, I think everything could come to a head by early next week,” a senior Frist aide said yesterday.

Both sides have said that any hope of compromise has evaporated.

Although most polls show majority opposition to the “nuclear option,” the rare parliamentary procedure through which the Senate will ban filibusters of judicial nominees, they also show majority opposition to the Democratic filibusters.

In a poll conducted by Mr. Reid’s home state Las Vegas Tribune-Review, 51 percent of responding Nevadans said they opposed the filibusters while 42 percent said they supported them.

Mr. Reid said yesterday that “we feel good,” but “we certainly are not about to declare victory.”

“It’s going to take some Republicans of good will to be courageous and break from their leadership,” he said.

• Joseph Curl contributed to this report.

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