- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday called on President Bush to nominate more Democrat-friendly judges to speed the contentious confirmation process.

"The White House's unilateralism is not the way the process is intended to work," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat. "The most progress can be made most quickly if the White House would begin working with home-state senators to identify fair-minded, non-ideological, consensus nominees to fill these court vacancies."

He said it would help to "repair the damage of the last six years" in confirming federal judges. Republicans controlled the Senate during that time.

White House spokeswoman Ann Womack said Mr. Bush "welcomes the senator's pledge to hold prompt hearings." She said the president has worked "extensively" with Democratic home-state senators on nominations.

A conservative analyst who monitors the pace of judicial confirmations said Senate Democrats are "once again changing the rules to highjack the judicial selection process."

"Senator Leahy's so-called 'recommendations' boil down to a single directive: Democratic senators will confirm nominees as long as they can pick them in the first place," said Thomas Jipping, director of the Judicial Selection Monitoring Project affiliated with the Free Congress Foundation.

The Democratic-led Senate last year confirmed 28 of the 64 judicial candidates nominated by Mr. Bush, the lowest confirmation rate for the first year of each of the past four presidents.

This week Mr. Bush nominated an additional 24 judges. Two district court judges were confirmed by the Senate yesterday, leaving 58 judicial candidates still awaiting action.

An administration source said Mr. Bush "will continue to select the same kind of well-qualified nominees that he has since taking office."

Mr. Leahy also called on the president to "reconsider" his decision not to ask the American Bar Association for peer reviews in vetting judges. The committee does ask for the ABA's input, and Mr. Leahy said delaying that process until the nominations reach the Senate "has needlessly added months to the time required to begin the hearing process."

White House counsel Al Gonzales announced early last year that the administration was ending the ABA's 54-year advisory role in nominating federal judges partly because the group takes public positions on "divisive political, legal and social issues that come before the courts."

Mr. Leahy, who has led the fight against some Bush nominations, said he will "restore steadiness" in the judicial hearing process. But his pledge essentially was to continue the pace of confirmation hearings since Democrats took control of the panel in July 12 hearings in seven months.

Roger Pilon, a legal specialist at the Cato Institute in Washington, said Democrats last year held hearings "aimed at justifying the use of an ideological litmus test to ignore or disqualify judicial nominees. This year, with elections looming, they appear ready only to intensify the stall."

Mr. Leahy said Democrats would hold hearings for "a number of controversial nominees who do not have blue-slip problems," a term for senators raising formal objections to a candidate. Mr. Leahy said the panel will hold a hearing next week for Charles W. Pickering of Mississippi, a candidate for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals who is opposed by a coalition of liberal groups.

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