- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2003

The Senate Judiciary Committee is preparing to hold hearings for four of President Bush’s judicial nominees from Michigan despite staunch objections from their home-state senators.

Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, both Michigan Democrats, oppose the nominees to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Normally, that would prevent the nominees from getting a hearing.

But Republicans charge that Mr. Levin and Mrs. Stabenow are perverting the process by holding up the nominees as political retaliation. So, Republicans argue, there’s nothing wrong with proceeding with the confirmation process over their objections.

Mr. Levin and Mrs. Stabenow have made no secret that their objections have nothing to do with individual nominees, but rather with the way previous Clinton nominees were treated.

“On more than one occasion, the White House counsel has stated that some nominees during the previous administration were wrongly treated,” Mr. Levin and Mrs. Stabenow wrote in a letter to committee Chairman Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, in March. “[I]t would be wrong for the president to seek the confirmation of his nominees to the Michigan seats on the Sixth Circuit before the acknowledged wrong was corrected.”

The four judicial nominees being blocked are David W. McKeague, federal judge for the Western District of Michigan; Susan Neilson, a state circuit judge; Henry W. Saad, a judge for the Michigan Court of Appeals; and Richard A. Griffin, also a Michigan Court of Appeals judge. If confirmed, Judge Saad would become the first Arab-descent member of the federal judiciary.

To end the standoff, Mr. Levin and Mrs. Stabenow want Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Helene White and lawyer Kathleen McCree Lewis renominated. They were both previously nominated to the 6th Circuit by Mr. Clinton and blocked by Republicans.

The blockade of Mr. Bush’s so-called “Michigan Four” comes in the form of two negative “blue slips,” the traditional method by which senators signal if they have not been consulted by the White House or disapprove of the nominations.

It is rare for a nominee to proceed against one negative blue slip and rarer still to proceed against two negative blue slips.

But, said Republican judiciary staffers, Mr. Levin and Mrs. Stabenow are using their blue slips in this case as ransom notes.

“The blue slip has always been about adequate consultation with home-state senators prior to the nomination,” said one senior committee staffer. “Blue slips have never given individual senators absolute veto power.”

Mr. Hatch has written the White House asking if Mr. Levin and Mrs. Stabenow were adequately consulted before Mr. Bush submitted his nominees. If so, Republicans say, he will proceed with the hearings.

The move comes one week after Republican leadership tried to go around the committee, where the nominees are stuck, by calling them directly to the floor. Democrats — outraged at the suggestion — attacked Republicans for trying to confirm judges without holding hearings.

“So,” said one Republican staffer, “we decided to give them just what they asked for.”

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