Thursday, June 3, 2004

Sen. Carl Levin stopped a Bush nominee to the federal appeals court yesterday in a continuing effort to reserve the seat for the wife of his first cousin.

Michigan Judge Henry W. Saad was nominated to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals more than three years ago, but has been stalled by Democrats on the Judiciary Committee at the behest of Mr. Levin, Michigan Democrat.

“This is a troubled circuit,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee, said upon leaving a committee hearing in which a vote on Judge Saad was postponed for the 20th time. “We’ve got four vacancies that need to be filled. We need to move forward.”

Mr. Levin remains angry over the treatment of his cousin’s wife, Michigan Judge Helene White, who was among several people nominated by then President Clinton and blocked by the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee.

Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, has actively negotiated with Mr. Levin since last year to find a way for him to support Mr. Bush’s nominees from Michigan. By tradition, senators are granted at least some say in whether nominees from their state are confirmed.

Mr. Hatch has offered to add Michigan-based seats to the 6th Circuit, but Mr. Levin hasn’t budged from his insistence that his cousin’s wife and another judge be placed on the panel.

The 6th Circuit squabble goes back to 1992, when Judge Saad was first nominated to the federal bench by Mr. Bush’s father and blocked by committee Democrats.

Although yesterday marked the 20th time Judge Saad’s nomination has been postponed in committee, it was significant because Republicans thought that Mr. Hatch had been serious this time when he promised to move the nominee out of committee.

“My goal in moving this nominee through the Committee today is to see if we can help set the stage for a compromise on the 6th Circuit seats,” Mr. Hatch said at the start of the meeting yesterday.

From the moment Mr. Hatch began the meeting, he struggled to get the quorum required to vote on a nominee. As soon as a quorum gathered, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, requested a private meeting to discuss accusations stemming from Judge Saad’s FBI background check.

Though several Republicans noted privately that the routine check had been completed more than six months ago and that no questions had arisen, Mr. Hatch acquiesced and removed the public and reporters to hold a meeting. During that meeting, Judge Saad’s hopes of getting out of committee faded.

Although the closed-door meeting succeeded in delaying Judge Saad’s nomination one more week, it failed to remain secret. The hearing was broadcast over the Internet because of apparent inadvertence on the part of Republican staffers.

Most Republican ire over Judge Saad’s slow movement is directed at Mr. Levin and other Democrats. But some fury also is directed at Mr. Hatch for trying to negotiate, rather than ram Judge Saad through.

Several were particularly troubled by Mr. Hatch’s promise yesterday to schedule a hearing for Utah Lawyer Thomas B. Griffith, nominated last month to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Some Republicans worry that Mr. Hatch will forfeit fights over Bush nominees in favor of Mr. Griffith, a friend and former staffer.

“We’re concerned Hatch could trade away the store on all of these pending nominees in an effort to get Griffith through,” said one Republican staffer.

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