- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 6, 2004

The biggest Senate showdown in more than a year over a judicial nominee is scheduled for today in a debate billed as a trial run for the fight over the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment.

It could also be the first — and high-profile — outright defeat of one of President Bush’s judicial nominees on the Senate floor.

All the more remarkable is that the nominee, Arkansas lawyer J. Leon Holmes, is named to federal district court, which sees virtually no contentious nomination battles. Each of Mr. Bush’s six filibustered nominees have been named to the higher federal appeals courts.

Democrats have assailed Mr. Holmes, a Catholic, for past religious writings on women’s “subordinate” role in marriage and other subjects. Republicans accuse Democrats of being “anti-Catholic” and say Mr. Holmes is being targeted owing to his opposition to abortion.

The fight over the 17-month-old nomination has made some odd allies and enemies in the Senate.

Supporting Mr. Bush’s nominee are Arkansas’ two Democratic senators, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. Meanwhile, Republicans including Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas have refused to announce support for Mr. Holmes and have been accused by some conservatives of working to actually thwart him.

Mr. Specter, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, has been criticized by conservatives for reportedly lobbying Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both Maine Republicans, and Sen. Lincoln Chaffee , Rhode Island Republican, to vote against Mr. Holmes.

It is Republican opponents — rather than Democrats — who have stalled Mr. Holmes’ nomination since his hearing before the Judiciary Committee 15 months ago.

At the center of opponents’ case against Mr. Holmes is an article he and his wife co-authored for a church publication about the “historic Catholic teaching regarding the relation between male and female.”

In it, Mr. Holmes and his wife wrote that “the wife is to subordinate herself to the husband” and that “the woman is to place herself under the authority of the man.”

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, a Judiciary Committee member and also Catholic, asked Mr. Holmes about the statement regarding women. Mr. Holmes answered that it was a discussion of the historic theological teachings of the Catholic Church.

“I will tell you — as a person with a Catholic background — that these are troubling statements for him to make,” Mr. Durbin said. “Mr. Holmes’ statements reflect a narrow view of Catholic theology and do not embody contemporary standards that should be followed by any federal judge in any state.”

Republicans defend Mr. Holmes, saying the lines about women are misconstrued when taken out of the context of the article, which they say is a theological discussion taken directly from letters written by the apostle Paul.

“A vote against Holmes is a vote against St. Paul,” one Republican said.

Democrats strongly deny such charges of anti-religious bias. It was such a dispute during a photo session on the Senate floor last month that prompted Vice President Dick Cheney to reply with a barnyard epithet to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

Tracy Schmaler, Democratic press secretary for the Senate Judiciary Committee, said a nominee’s “religion never was and never should be used as a political football.”

“It’s another baseless, late-inning smear cooked up by partisan Republicans hoping to score political points about one of the White House’s most controversial nominees,” she said. “There is bipartisan concern about the fitness of this nominee, and some are now launching wedge political attacks to distract the Senate and the public from this nominee’s troubling record on civil rights, voting rights and women’s rights.”

Others Republicans, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, say that Mr. Holmes’ ardent opposition to abortion is the real reason his nomination is being opposed.

Mr. Hatch and other Republican leaders have vowed to fight hard for the 50 votes they need to confirm Mr. Holmes. Unlike with filibustered nominees who require 60 votes in order to get a final vote, Democrats are confident enough that Mr. Holmes will be defeated that they agreed to move directly to a final confirmation vote, where a simple majority is needed for confirmation.

Republican leadership has scheduled a vote Tuesday after six hours of floor debate. That length of debate is rare for any nominee and possibly unprecedented for a district court nominee.

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