The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday quickly and politely questioned the first of President Bush’s judicial candidates, after spending months of partisan wrangling over how the nominations should proceed.
Judge Roger L. Gregory’s hearing for a permanent assignment to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lasted a little more than an hour, with praise from Republicans and Democrats virtually ensuring a speedy confirmation.
“This nomination is the highest point of my life,” Judge Gregory told the panel.
The hearing was sparsely attended by committee members from both parties. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and committee chairman, spent most of the hearing alone on the dais.
Mr. Leahy called Judge Gregory’s qualifications for the position “stellar.”
“His service on the bench since his appointment has been uniformly praised, he has proven himself to be fair and collegial, and based on all of these considerations, it seems appropriate that Judge Gregory’s nomination be the first considered by the Senate this year,” Mr. Leahy said.
Republicans predicted Judge Gregory would be the first of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees considered by the Democrat-controlled Senate because the Richmond native originally was nominated in June 2000 by President Clinton. His nomination was blocked by Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, as payback to Democrats who shot down the nomination of Judge Terrence Boyle to the same bench. After Congress adjourned in December without acting on Judge Gregory’s nomination, Mr. Clinton gave him a temporary appointment to the court.
Judge Boyle, a former aide to Mr. Helms, has been renominated for a federal judgeship by Mr. Bush, but his hearing date has not been set. Mr. Helms is now silent on Judge Gregory’s nomination, but Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, is threatening to block Judge Boyle’s nomination.
Republican Sens. John W. Warner and George F. Allen of Virginia introduced Judge Gregory at the hearing and praised his integrity and dignity.
“I am comfortable with his philosophy of what a proper judge should be,” Mr. Allen said.
Mr. Warner’s support for Judge Gregory goes back to last year, when he urged confirmation. Mr. Leahy credited Mr. Warner for successfully gathering Republican support for Judge Gregory’s nomination.
“We established a close and professional bond and friendship, and I have stood by his side ever since,” Mr. Warner said.
If confirmed, Judge Gregory will become the first permanent black judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The 4th Circuit, based in Richmond, includes Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina, where blacks make up 22 percent of the population.
A committee vote has not been scheduled, but Mr. Leahy’s spokesman said the nomination will “move promptly.”
The committee also reviewed the nominations of Montana residents Richard E. Cebull and Sam E. Haddon to the U.S. District Court and Maryland native Eileen J. O’Connor for assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s tax division.
Mr. Bush on Tuesday night submitted three new nominations: James E. Gritzner, for U.S. district judge for the Southern District of Iowa; Michael P. Mills, for U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Mississippi; and Michael J. Melloy of Iowa, for the 8th Circuit Court.
Republicans and Democrats earlier this year battled over the right to secretly veto nominations from their home states. Democrats are allowing the “blue slip” policy to continue, but say the vetos must be made public.