- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Senate Democrats yesterday broadened their criticisms of President Bush's judicial nominees to another circuit court candidate, in what Republicans said was a growing pattern of delay and character assassination.
District Judge D. Brooks Smith, chief judge of the Western District of Pennsylvania, faced tough questioning from Judiciary Committee Democrats, as a vote on another embattled nominee was delayed.
"It is absolutely a pattern," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and Judiciary Committee member.
"They are taking a series of insignificant and isolated events in a person's life and creating a caricature of that person. Then they ask the Senate to vote down the caricature, not the person," Mr. Sessions said.
Led by People for the American Way, liberal groups oppose Judge Smith's views on states' rights, civil rights, the environment and consumer protection. The groups and Democrats also question the conservative nominee's judicial ethics and recusal from a fraud case.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. said he would maintain an open mind with regard to Judge Smith's nomination, but in the same breath threatened to defeat the nominee if he were not completely forthcoming to all questions from Democrats.
"I will do everything in my power to defeat you, including moving to the Senate floor to take action I've never taken in my life as a United States senator, a filibuster," Mr. Biden said.
In a 1993 speech to the Pittsburgh Federalist Society, Judge Smith criticized the Delaware Democrat and his efforts to pass the Violence Against Women Act, some portions of which were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Judge Smith maintains that states, not the federal government, have power over domestic-violence laws.
Mr. Biden recognized that Judge Smith's foresight was correct but said he was more interested in the nominee's future behavior.
"I care about your judicial philosophy. I don't care where you went; I care about where you are going," Mr. Biden said.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, agrees that a pattern is emerging with regard to circuit judge nominations that are delayed or not even considered by Democrats who control the Senate.
The Senate has approved 33 district judges and seven circuit judges, including two confirmed yesterday by a 98-0 vote: Robert Blackburn to the U.S. District of Colorado and Cindy K. Jorgenson to the U.S. District of Arizona. Still pending in committee are 22 circuit judges and 28 district judges.
"I'm not satisfied with the way the president's nominees for the federal judiciary are being treated," Mr. Lott said.
Mr. Lott requested that a committee vote tomorrow on District Judge Charles W. Pickering to a circuit post be postponed one week to allow him more time to answer additional written questions from Democratic senators.
"I do think that Judge Pickering has been treated very poorly," Mr. Lott said. Judge Pickering is one of five nominees who have had hearings but no committee votes.
In addition to two hearings and an intense examination of hundreds of Judge Pickering's written opinions, Mr. Lott said, one Democrat has submitted a list of 78 questions the Mississippi jurist is still answering.
"I think that at least Judge Pickering should have the opportunity to respond to the questions," Mr. Lott said.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and Judiciary Committee chairman, said the process would move more quickly if the White House would work with home-state senators "to identify fair-minded, non-ideological, consensus nominees to fill these court vacancies."
"As we move forward, I have urged the White House to show greater inclusiveness and flexibility and to help make this a truly bipartisan enterprise," Mr. Leahy said.
Democrats peppered Judge Smith with numerous questions about the number of judicial seminars he had attended, a case in which he recused himself and the Federalist Society speech. A committee vote on the Smith nomination has not been scheduled.
"Anyone who has been reading the newspapers in the past few weeks knows that it would be impossible to comment on Judge Smith's credentials without mentioning the attack he has come under from the usual liberal lobbyist interest groups in Washington," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican.
"As President Reagan would say, 'There they go again,'" Mr. Hatch said.
Judge Smith took an untold number of trips to seminars totaling $30,000. Such trips are opposed by Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat and a sponsor of legislation to ban such trips. Judge Smith told the committee he would not take any trips as a circuit court judge if they appeared improper or created a conflict of interest.
Judge Smith recused himself during a 1997 fraud case involving Mid-State Bank, where his wife, Karen, was vice president of lending. The Smiths also held $100,000 to $250,000 of Mid-State Bank stock and a 401(k) fund with the bank in the same amount.
The fraud charge was not leveled at the bank, but a client was accused of defrauding dozens of Pennsylvania school districts.
"At no time did I have an actual conflict of interest that required my automatic disqualification," Judge Smith said.
To avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest, Judge Smith said, he recused himself in the middle of the case, but the rulings he already had made were "neither illegal nor unethical."
"None of the parties, lawyers or judges nor the trustee has questioned my conduct," Judge Smith said.
Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, asked numerous questions of state versus congressional authority, including whether Congress had the right to pass legislation making terrorist hoaxes illegal and to criminalize drug use.
"Absolutely," Judge Smith answered each time.
Mr. Sessions cited the American Bar Association's unanimous rating of Judge Smith as "well qualified" as a reason to support the judge.
"He will follow the law, even if he does not agree with it," Mr. Sessions said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide