- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Democrats are threatening to delay judicial nominees in response to the White House dismissal of the American Bar Association (ABA) in the vetting process.
Republicans, defending President Bush's decision to end the ABA's role in evaluating federal judges, say the Democratic threats are hollow.
"It's a phony issue," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
"If Democrats want to vote against nominees because of the ABA, that's their privilege. It's a ridiculous argument," said Mr. Hatch of Utah.
"We senators are elected to do the vetting and the confirmation not the ABA," Mr. Hatch said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and Judiciary Committee member, said it appeared the Democrats are looking for excuses to oppose any Bush administration nominee.
"They have enough votes to delay," Mr. Sessions said of the 50-50 Senate split, "they don't need an excuse to do it."
"The president has the constitutional power to appoint judges. I wonder if they also want the ABA to review presidential pardons," Mr. Sessions said, referring to dozens of questionable pardons issued by President Clinton in his last days in office, which were criticized by congressional Democrats.
Key Democrats will meet today with the ABA to discuss reincorporating the organization back into the confirmation process on the committee level.
"It's outrageous," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who will meet with the ABA along with Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Charles E. Schumer of New York.
If the ABA is cut out of the process, Mr. Biden and other Democrats said it would cause delays in the committee nomination process and is "fair enough to do."
"This changes the whole ball game," Mr. Biden said.
"It's war," Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, said in the Legal Times yesterday.
Mr. Bush will "have a much, much harder time passing judges," Mrs. Boxer said.
Some of the same senators now threatening to delay Mr. Bush's nominees complained bitterly when Republicans delayed Mr. Clinton's judicial appointments.
In December 1999, when 13 Republican senators vowed to block all of Mr. Clinton's judicial nominees because of a dispute over the president's use of so-called "recess" appointments, Mr. Leahy called the threat a "reckless and disproportionate response."
In October, as the Senate voted to confirm four Clinton-appointed judges Mr. Leahy complained that "judicial nominees have waited and waited and waited but haven't received a vote."
When Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, announced his opposition to Mr. Clinton's nomination of Judge Richard A. Paez to the federal bench, Mrs. Boxer said, "The most important thing is that we get the vote" in other words, that the Paez appointment not be blocked from reaching the Senate floor.
While partisan battles over judicial nominees are nothing new, Republican senators blocked or delayed few of Mr. Clinton's appointments to the bench. After taking over the Senate in 1995, Republicans approved 240 of the first 241 Clinton-appointed judges to come up for a vote.
In his eight-year term, Mr. Clinton had 377 of his judicial appointees approved by the Senate, roughly comparable to the 382 judges President Reagan placed on the federal bench during his eight years in the White House.
Mr. Biden is a veteran of partisan battles over judicial nominations. The Delaware Democrat was a leader of the failed effort by Democrats to block Clarence Thomas' 1990 appointment to the Supreme Court.
As long ago as last May, Mr. Biden was threatening to block bench appointments if a Republican won the White House: "If Bush is elected … we will see most of the judges stopped who are Republican," he said at the time.
The White House announced last week that it welcomes suggestions from the ABA, but will no longer notify the organization in advance of a nominee submission to the Senate.
"We are confident that this procedure, in which the president will welcome and receive input from a variety of interested and diverse parties, will enable the president to nominate candidates of the highest intellect, integrity, and professional qualification," Al Gonzales, White House counsel, said in a March 22 letter to Mr. Leahy and Mr. Schumer.
The ABA began vetting judicial nominees in the Eisenhower administration, reviewing candidates' legal skills, qualifications, and conducting background checks.
"We are extremely disappointed that the president and his counsel have decided to downgrade and delay the ABA's role in evaluating prospective nominees for the federal bench," Mr. Leahy and Mr. Schumer said in a joint statement.
"Now that the White House has eliminated the ABA's initial role in the nomination process, we will work to ensure they play a role in the Senate confirmation process," the senators said.
The Bush administration last week moved to end the ABA's five-decade role in vetting Supreme Court nominees in part because of the association's political activism.
White House Counsel Al Gonzales questioned "whether the ABA should … have its voice heard before and above all others" in a letter to ABA President Martha Barnett last week, saying it was "particularly inappropriate, in our view, to grant a preferential, quasi-official role to a group such as the ABA."
Critics have cited a 1987 leak to the New York Times of a secret ABA committee vote deeming Judge Robert Bork as "not qualified" to be a Supreme Court justice.


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