- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

President Bush yesterday demanded the Senate vote up or down on presidential judicial nominees regardless of which party is in control as he proposed a new plan intended to remove politics from the confirmation process.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted on just 80 of the president's 131 nominees and just 14 of his 32 appeals court nominees. In contrast, 60 of the 65 appeals court nominees were confirmed in the first two years of the past three administrations.
"The judicial confirmation process does not work as it should," Mr. Bush said in an East Room event. "Nominees are too often mistreated, votes are delayed, hearings are denied, and dozens of federal judgeships sit empty, and this endangers the quality of justice in America."
Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist has called the 79 vacancies out of the 849 authorized federal judgeships a 9 percent vacancy rate "alarming." The American Bar Association in August described the status of the federal judiciary as an "emergency situation."
But Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, immediately criticized the Bush proposal.
"The Democratic Senate has moved far faster and with far more fairness than the previous Republican Senate in filling judicial vacancies, even though many of those vacancies were kept open through Republican stalling on so many of President Clinton's nominees," he said.
In 1998, when there were 50 judicial vacancies and Republicans controlled the Senate, Mr. Leahy said there was a "judicial vacancy crisis."
Under the president's proposal, which would require the Senate to changes its rules, nominees would be assured a vote regardless of which party controls the Senate or the White House.
"Today, I'm proposing a clean start for the process of nominating and confirming federal judges. We must have an evenhanded, predictable procedure from the day a vacancy is announced to the day a new judge is sworn in," Mr. Bush said.
Under the president's proposal:
Federal appeals and district court judges would notify the president at least a year in advance of their intended retirement dates.
"Because the nomination and confirmation of a federal judge is a lengthy process under the best of circumstances, judges who retire without advance notice can unintentionally create a judicial vacancy that can last for many months," Mr. Bush said.
The president would submit his nomination to the Senate within 180 days of receiving notice of a vacancy.
"This will speed up the sometimes time-consuming process of obtaining recommendations and evaluations from home-state senators and representatives and governors and bar leaders, while leaving ample time for presidents to vet and choose nominees of the highest quality," the president said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee would commit to holding a hearing within 90 days of receiving a nomination.
"A strict deadline is the best way to ensure that judicial nominees are promptly and fairly considered. And 90 days is more than enough time for the committee to conduct necessary research before holding a hearing that's plenty of time."
The full Senate would then hold a floor vote within 180 days of receiving a judicial nomination.
"This is a very generous period of time that will allow all the senators to evaluate nominees and have their votes counted. There's no good reason why any nominee should endure a year, a year-and-a-half, or more, without the courtesy of an up-or-down floor vote," Mr. Bush said.
Since taking office in January 2001, Mr. Bush has nominated 131 U.S. District Court and Court of Appeals judges, and the Senate has confirmed 80 of them.
"Our proposals would not favor Democrats or Republicans. It doesn't matter who the president is. What matters is a system which works," Mr. Bush said.
But Mr. Leahy and other Democrats accused the Bush administration of politicizing the issue just days before the midterm elections.
"It was unfortunate to see the Senate's historic record of bipartisan cooperation on confirmations distorted in the weeks leading up to November elections," Mr. Leahy said.
"The president has to understand that the reason the process breaks down is that he is intent on nominating judges who are way out of the mainstream," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Calling the Bush proposal "a campaign tactic," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said: "It's wrong to drag the federal courts into the voting booth."

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