- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee is negotiating with Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, to add as many as two new Michigan-based federal judgeships in exchange for lifting a filibuster against all of President Bush’s judicial nominees from that state.

Though no deal is yet final, a top Republican staffer familiar with the talks said the plan would add a seat to the 22-member 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that would be filled by a nominee from Michigan.

Also under consideration is adding a seat to one of Michigan’s two federal district courts, which now seat a combined 30 judges.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, hopes to end a nearly two-year blockade of Mr. Bush’s appellate-court nominees from Michigan, but some fellow Republicans are comparing the plan to “negotiating with terrorists.”

Committee Democrats have been stalling the nominations at the behest of Mr. Levin, who remains angry over the treatment of several Clinton nominees in past years.

Several Republicans presumed that the new appellate-court seat would go to Michigan Judge Helene White, who was nominated by President Clinton in 1997 but never given a hearing by Republicans. Judge White is married to Mr. Levin’s cousin.

Mr. Levin and Mr. Hatch both declined to discuss the negotiations, which have been going on since August after a confirmation hearing was held on one of Mr. Bush’s nominees, Michigan Judge Henry W. Saad.

Mr. Hatch has placed Judge Saad on the committee’s agenda for a vote six times, but has removed it each time at the last minute.

In addition to Judge Saad, Democrats also are blocking three other Bush nominees from Michigan. They join about a dozen nominees from across the country who have been slow-walked or filibustered on the Senate floor by Democrats.

Asked if he was willing to placate Mr. Levin by adding the Michigan judicial posts, Mr. Hatch said: “I’m always very open, but let me not …” and trailed off.

“It’s sensitive,” he resumed. “These are very sensitive negotiations.”

Generally speaking, Mr. Hatch said, he wants to “resolve this without poking anybody in the eye.”

If both seats are added, the first year cost to taxpayers would be more than $1.8 million to pay the new judges, clerks and offices, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Once established, the combined annual cost of the two seats would be more than $1.6 million.

Such a deal would also give bragging rights to Mr. Levin, who has faced criticism at home for stalling the nominations and for the growing backlog of unheard cases resulting from the court vacancies.

Upon learning of the negotiations yesterday, several Republicans privately expressed outrage at the prospect of Mr. Levin being rewarded for the two-year blockade.

The discussions were denounced as “blackmail talks.”

“Any sort of working on deals is not part of the normal process,” said one Judiciary Committee staffer. “This is not something that most conservative Republicans would approve of.”

One Senate aide familiar with the talks said: “The White House is not happy with this. [Republican] leadership is not happy with this. Nobody is happy with this.”

Mr. Hatch faces trouble getting support from even his panel’s most junior Republicans.

“My preference would be to not negotiate,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and freshman member of the committee. Mr. Cornyn, who had not heard about the proposal to add federal judge posts in Michigan, called the idea a “split-the-baby solution.”

“It’s not very palatable to me,” he said. “I’d be very curious whether [White House Counsel] Al Gonzales and the rest of the West Wing would be amenable to that.”

The White House did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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