- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 2004

The White House yesterday announced that President Bush will renominate 20 candidates for federal courts who were denied up-or-down votes by the Senate during the president’s first term.

The move was a direct challenge to Democrats and set the tone for what is expected to be a fierce fight over the Supreme Court, which most observers think will have several vacancies in the next four years.

“The president nominated highly qualified individuals to the federal courts during his first term, but the Senate failed to vote on many nominations,” said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

“Unfortunately this only exacerbates the issue of judicial vacancies, compounds the backlog of cases and delays timely justice for the American people,” he added. “The Senate has a constitutional obligation to vote up or down on a president’s judicial nominees.”

Liberals lambasted Mr. Bush for re-nominating what they called “extremists.” They viewed the move as a precursor to the Supreme Court battle in which they expect him to nominate justices who would outlaw abortion.

“This slate of nominees signals again that the president and his team want to pack the federal courts with right-wing ideologues and roll back decades of progress in social justice,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way.

“This portends long, hard months of debate over the federal courts and sends a truly disturbing signal of what we can expect if and when a Supreme Court vacancy occurs,” he added. “If justices like these are appointed, we can say goodbye to a woman’s right to choose.”

The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) called the president’s move a gift to religious conservatives who helped elect him last month.

“It looks like Jerry Falwell got his Christmas wish list in to the president on time,” said NARAL President Nancy Keenan.

“But even if he drops these nominations down the Senate’s chimney, there’s nothing he can do to make them any less out of the American mainstream,” she added. “Why doesn’t the president understand that all anyone is asking for is judges who’ll respect personal freedom and privacy?”

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said he was “encouraged” by the renominations.

“The American people sent a strong message on November 2 against the obstructionist tactics that, unfortunately, we saw all too often in the past four years,” said Mr. Cornyn, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But Sen. Harry Reid, the incoming Senate minority leader, has assumed a defiant posture on the issue of judicial nominees. He has emphasized that while the Senate refused to vote on some nominees, it approved the vast majority of those who received votes.

“During the four years that President Bush has been president, we’ve approved 207 federal judges and turned down 10,” the Nevada Democrat told NBC this month. “The president should be happy with what he’s gotten, 207-10. That’s a pretty good record for him.”

The White House did not sound happy yesterday, pointing out that 16 of the 20 candidates in question were first nominated more than a year ago. Most of those would have been approved by the Senate’s 51 Republican senators, but Democrats invoked filibusters that would have required 60 votes to break the logjam.

The Senate will have 55 Republicans next year, still short of overcoming a filibuster, although some Republicans are considering a procedural solution. It would call for 51 senators to vote on a motion declaring that filibusters violate the constitutional duty of the Senate to provide advice and consent to presidents on judicial nominations.

Such a motion could be enacted by Vice President Dick Cheney, who is also president of the Senate. That would clear the way for the 20 nominations to be confirmed, although Democrats consider such a move the “nuclear option” and likely would retaliate.

“If they, for whatever reason, decide to do this, it’s not only wrong, they will rue the day they did it, because we will do whatever we can do to strike back,” Mr. Reid said this month. “I know procedures around here. And I know that there will still be Senate business conducted. But I will, for lack of a better word, screw things up.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said any attempt to stop Democratic filibusters “would make the Senate look like a banana republic” and “cause us to try to shut it down in every way.” Specifically, he has threatened to block the president’s plans to simplify the tax code and partially privatize Social Security.

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist last month called the use of filibusters against judicial nominees a “formula for tyranny by the minority.” The Tennessee Republican added: “One way or another, the filibuster of judicial nominees must end.”

White House political strategist Karl Rove, who told The Washington Times in September that Republicans would gain up to four Senate seats, said the effect of these gains would be dramatic in overcoming Democratic recalcitrance on judicial nominees.

“Even a gain of a couple of seats is going to work a sea change on their ability to obstruct these judges,” he said.

Republicans are confident that if Democrats continue to obstruct the president’s judicial nominees, they will pay a heavy political price. Mr. Rove is convinced that judges were a potent issue for Republicans in the elections of 2002 and 2004, when voters responded enthusiastically each time Mr. Bush invoked the issue on the campaign trail.

“If he said judges, people cheered,” Mr. Rove said. “They’d know that something was fundamentally flawed with the courts, that we’ve got a bunch of judicial activists, that Bush could be trusted to appoint good people to the courts and there was something stinky about how all these people were being held up.”

Among those scheduled for renomination next year is William Pryor, who is serving on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. As a recess appointee who was installed on the bench while Congress was out of session, Judge Pryor would need Senate confirmation to remain on the court next year.

Also on the list is Priscilla Owen, whom Mr. Bush nominated for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court in New Orleans.

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