Senate approves judge; stalls on others

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The Senate yesterday approved its second appeals court nomination this year, but not before Democratic and Republican leaders accused each other of slow-walking the process to fill additional vacant federal bench seats.

The chamber voted 96-0 to confirm G. Steven Agee of Virginia to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but Republicans said he is the only circuit court nominee likely to be confirmed this week, meaning Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is about to break his pledge of several weeks ago to try to hold votes on three of President Bush’s appeals court nominations by Memorial Day.

Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he can’t guarantee he will make his target because “that outcome would depend on factors beyond my control.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, wants two 6th Circuit Court nominees — Raymond Kethledge and Helene White, both of Michigan — to be confirmed next, but Republicans wanted two other long-pending nominees confirmed instead.

Democrats said frustrated Republicans are now trying to sabotage Mr. Reid’s promise of three confirmations.

Mr. Reid said Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee “badgered” Judge White at her recent confirmation hearing, then followed up with a list of 73 separate written questions, “including some that will be particularly time consuming.”

“Every senator has the right to ask questions of a nominee, but the number and nature of the questions posed to Judge White suggest that Republicans intend to delay that nomination,” Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor Monday. “Nothing in my pledge regarding judicial nominations deprived Chairman Leahy of his prerogative to determine the sequence of nomination hearings in his committee.”

But Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, responded that several other nominees have been waiting much longer than Judge White, who was nominated by Mr. Bush in April on requests from Michigan Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.

Senator Reid had plenty of alternatives to deal with,” Mr. Specter said Monday. “He did not have to move to Judge White and force this phenomenal effort on a rush to judgment.”

President Clinton nominated Judge White for a circuit court seat in 1997, but her nomination was blocked by Republicans.

Justice Agee, a member of the Virginia Supreme Court since 2003, was nominated in March by President Bush to fill a seat vacant since 2006. His nomination was supported by both Virginia senators, Republican John W. Warner and Democrat Jim Webb.

Justice Agee’s qualifications to serve on the 4th Circuit are as impressive as any circuit-court nominee for whom I have voted in my 30 years in the Senate,” Mr. Warner said.

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