- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

The gridlock over President Bush's judicial nominees eased yesterday with the confirmation of Judge Lavenski R. Smith to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the first action growing from a deal struck last week between Republicans and Democrats.

Judge Smith of Arkansas was confirmed by the Senate on a voice vote, after senators backed a measure to vote on his confirmation by a 94-3 margin.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, tentatively agreed to hold votes on judges in exchange for Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, releasing his hold on the nomination of Jonathan Adelstein, an aide to Mr. Daschle, for the Federal Communications Commission.

However, the objections of Sen. John McCain over a particular nominee are forcing Republicans and Democrats to proceed at a snail's pace to confirm 70 stalled candidates.

Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, is insisting that Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, be installed on the Federal Elections Commission.

Senate Republican aides yesterday distributed a nine-page memo calling Mrs. Weintraub a "walking conflict of interest," citing such potential conflicts as her marriage to William Dauster, legislative director for Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat.

Mr. Feingold and Mr. Dauster, as architects of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, "have a direct stake in the rulemaking and enforcement that the FEC will carry pursuant to McCain-Feingold," the memo said.

Judges must recuse themselves if they or someone in their family has a substantial stake in matters before the forum, according to the American Bar Association's model code of judicial conduct.

"Judging from the prominent noisy lobbying of the FEC by Sens. McCain and Feingold, it's fair to assume that they and their staffs have a direct substantial stake in the FEC's new rulemaking. This would require Ms. Weintraub to recuse herself from the rulemaking," the memo said.

The memo called Mr. McCain's actions "obstructionism" that is "particularly troubling."

In his weekly briefing yesterday, Mr. Lott said getting around Mr. McCain's procedural block has become "a very labored process."

While Judge Smith was confirmed without conflict, the nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court came under fire yesterday. Her first committee hearing is set for Thursday.

Liberal special interest groups held a press conference criticizing the nominee, immediately followed by conservative groups defending her as a fair and qualified candidate.

"In seven years on the Texas Supreme Court, Justice Owen has proven herself to be an ultraconservative activist whose opinions not only stray well beyond the American mainstream, but even run far to the right of the conservative majority of her own court," said Kae McLaughlin, executive director of the Texas Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League.

"Priscilla Owen is not a mainstream jurist. Owen is a result-oriented, conservative activist whose nomination should be rejected," Miss McLaughlin said.

The groups, which include the National Organization for Women, the AFL-CIO and Planned Parenthood, want Democrats to reject the nomination.

"Justice Owen's opinions are outside the mainstream of Texas jurisprudence in the areas of discrimination and employee rights, reproductive rights, sexual harassment, public information rights, environmental protection and consumer and citizen rights," the groups said in a letter to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

But C. Boyden Gray, who served as counsel to former President Bush, called Justice Owen a superb candidate who would have been approved by any other Congress.

"I think they are objecting to everyone and making excuses," Mr. Gray said. "It's part of the pattern of blocking all the nominees, and this is someone who should be confirmed immediately."

Kay Daly, president of the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, said her group called its press conference to counter the feminist criticism.

"We just could not let these groups go unanswered today," she said.

"They are picking on her first and foremost because she is from the president's home state. This is the Pickering pattern; they picked on him because he is from Lott's home state," said Mrs. Daly, referring to Judge Charles W. Pickering, who was defeated by Judiciary Committee Democrats.

Said one Republican aide: "It's a war over abortion. It has nothing to do with Priscilla Owen it's an abortion, gay-rights agenda."

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