- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Republicans demanded yesterday that Michigan’s senators abandon their blockade of four judicial nominees from their state, including one who would become the first American federal judge of Arab descent.

“I believe it is simply not fair to the individual nominees, to the president, or to the people of the 6th Circuit [Court of Appeals] to allow this obstruction to continue,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said yesterday. “And if the [Judiciary] Committee will not act on these nominees, then the majority of the Senate will do so as the Constitution intended.”

Frustrated over holds against the “Michigan Four” that have lasted over a year, Mr. Frist introduced a “discharge petition” this week to force the Senate Judiciary Committee to send the nominees to the floor over the objections of Michigan Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow — neither of whom is on the panel. Under Senate tradition, senators strongly influence consideration of nominees from their states.

“Senate Republicans this year have already systematically changed, bent and even broken the rules and practices of the Judiciary Committee and recently some have even proposed changing the rules of the Senate itself,” said David Carle, spokesman for Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and ranking member of the Judiciary panel. “These are rules that they assiduously defended and enforced when they were in charge before, when a Democratic president was the White House occupant.”

Mr. Frist’s petition remains pending under threat of a Democratic filibuster.

Mr. Levin and Mrs. Stabenow, whose offices did not return calls seeking comment, say they were not consulted before the nominations. Also, they are still angry over nonconfirmation of two Clinton nominees from Michigan by Republicans using the same tactics.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, defended the Michigan senators, saying, “If both senators have said that for whatever reason, the nominee for a particular court is unacceptable, I think that ought to have some merit, some weight, some consideration.”

The nominees blocked in the Judiciary Committee to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are Judge David W. McKeague, federal judge for the Western District of Michigan; Judge Susan Neilson, a state circuit judge; Judge Henry W. Saad, a judge for the Michigan Court of Appeals; and Judge 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, according to Republicans.

A quarter of the judgeships on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are vacant, each deemed a “judicial emergency” by the Department of Justice. The growing backlog of cases is already leading to delays and denials of justice in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, Republicans said.

“This is severely handicapping litigants, delaying litigation substantially,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

“There are death-penalty reviews that have been delayed for more than a year,” added Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican. “In one case, a [death row inmate] from Cincinnati died waiting for appeal.”

Several Republicans criticized Mr. Levin and Mrs. Stabenow for retaliating against the current nominees based on treatment of Clinton nominees.

“They’re looking for fair treatment,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee, who chuckled over the notion that Republicans would demand an end to years of bitter judicial retaliation now that they control the Senate and the White House.

“You always want to stop the game-playing when you’re winning,” Mr. Durbin said.

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