- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

The Senate yesterday approved three of President Bush's judicial nominees, but the slow pace of the process was frustrating the White House and Republican leaders.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the Senate's failure to act on a record number of nominations has left fewer federal judges than at the beginning of the president's term.

"Federal judicial seats are being vacated at a rate faster than the Senate is confirming new people to these positions," said Mr. Fleischer.

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Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, blamed the high vacancy rate on Republicans and the White House.

"During the time a Republican majority controlled the process over the past 61/2 years, the vacancies rose from 65 to at least 103, an increase of almost 60 percent. We are making strides to improve on that record," said Mr. Leahy.

"The president has yet to send nominations to fill more than half of the current vacancies. This is a particular problem with the 71 District Court vacancies, for which 49 that's 69 percent do not have nominations pending."

Yesterday's actions bring the total number of confirmed judges to 21 out of 64 district and circuit court nominees submitted by Mr. Bush.

"The Senate is just becoming under the Democratic leadership a black hole of inactivity," said Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican. "The list of unconfirmed judicial nominations is three pages."

Confirmed by a 99-0 vote was Harris Hartz, of New Mexico, to be a U.S. Circuit Court judge for the 10th Circuit, and by voice vote, the nominations of Danny C. Reeves of Kentucky and Joe L. Heaton of Oklahoma to be District Court judges.

"Scores of judges continue to linger in the Senate, even as 40 vacancies are listed as emergencies by the administrative office of the courts," said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and former committee chairman, said he was pleased with the progress but added, "I think we could move a little bit faster."

The Senate has confirmed 33 percent of Mr. Bush's judicial nominees to date, lagging the pace for previous administrations.

In their first year, President Clinton had 57 percent of his nominees approved and the first President Bush received approval for 62 percent, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

In a letter to Mr. Leahy, Vice President Richard B. Cheney this week said the president "has fulfilled his constitutional responsibility to the federal judiciary," and urged quick Senate action.

The Senate late Wednesday also confirmed John Walters as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"Nearly a year into his term, President Bush finally has a full Cabinet," Mr. Kyl said. "I welcome John Walters' confirmation as the nation's drug czar."

Many other administration nominees are also being held "in an uncertain limbo," including Otto Reich for assistant secretary of state, Mr. Kyl said.

"Wouldn't it be useful for our new drug czar to have assistance from the State Department in tackling drug trafficking in Latin America, where drug lords in several nations are among the top suppliers of drugs to our children? Yet to this day, the Senate has failed to confirm Otto Reich, who would lead the State Department's efforts in Latin America," Mr. Kyl said.

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