- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 4, 2002

President Bush yesterday chastised the Democrat-controlled Senate for dragging its feet on judicial appointments, saying political posturing is "endangering the administration of justice in America."
"I have nominated 100 outstanding jurists for these posts. But the Senate, thus far, has not done its part to ensure that our federal courts operate at full strength. Justice is at risk in America, and the Senate must act for the good of the country," the president said in a speech to commemorate national Law Day.
"By its inaction the Senate is endangering the administration of justice in America. I call on Senate Democrats to end the vacancy crisis in our federal courts by restoring fairness to the judicial confirmation process," Mr. Bush said.
More than 10 percent of the nation's federal judgeships are currently vacant. In the 12 regional circuit courts of appeals, nearly 20 percent of the seats are vacant.
The Senate has confirmed just 52 of 100 nominees put forward by Mr. Bush, and only nine of 30 federal circuit court nominees.
"The crisis is especially severe in our 12 regional circuit courts of appeals, where more than one in six judgeships is vacant," Mr. Bush said. "The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, for example, handles some of our nation's highest- profile cases, including an important class of cases involving terrorists, but four out of 12 judgeships are not filled."
In the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles cases from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee, eight of 16 seats remain empty.
Mr. Bush said judicial nominees for which the president and Congress are jointly responsible should not become a partisan political issue.
"In my call for a prompt vote, it doesn't matter to me who's in the White House or who controls the Senate. What matters to me is that we address the vacancy crisis, that we solve the problem our nation faces. That's what matters," the president said.
In response, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the rise in vacancies was due to the backlog created by Republicans who controlled the Senate when President Clinton was in office. Mr. Leahy also said Democrats will not be a "rubber stamp" for the president's nominees.
"Controversial nominations take longer, and the president can help by choosing nominees primarily for their ability instead of for their ideology," Mr. Leahy said in a written statement.
But Mr. Bush said his nominees represent mainstream America.
The 30 circuit court nominees "have been judged either 'well qualified' or 'qualified' by the American Bar Association, which has been hailed as the gold standard by Senate Democrats," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush continues to be upset by the Senate Judiciary Committee's March 14 rejection of appeals court nominee Charles W. Pickering, a conservative judge the president nominated to serve in a conservative southern district.
The president said some of the nominees that are being held up in the Senate were sent to the chamber nearly a year ago and "include some of the leading appellate lawyers in the nation, some of the most well-respected sitting judges and one of the country's finest law professors."
"Yet all every one of them still wait for the Senate to take even the first step down the road to confirmation," he said.
But Mr. Leahy said Senate Democrats are not to blame for the rise in federal judicial vacancies.
"The surge in vacancies created on the Republicans' watch is being cleaned up under Democratic leadership in the Senate," he said, asserting that the current pace surpasses that of Republicans for Mr. Clinton's nominees.
"We are working hard to restore fairness in the confirmation process, which was sorely lacking in the previous six years under Republican control of the Senate," Mr. Leahy said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said Mr. Bush "needs to get his facts straight."
"The fact is, judicial vacancies dramatically increased under Republican control of the Senate. In less than a year, Democrats have significantly reduced those vacancies. We've confirmed more judges in 10 months than were confirmed in the first year of each of the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations."
But Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, said: "This is a scandalous situation due solely to the Democrat-dominated Senate's refusal to confirm President Bush's judicial nominations."
"It is irresponsible to play politics concerning such important matters. To allow this many judicial seats to remain empty denies swift justice for the American people," Mr. Hyde said.
Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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