- Associated Press - Monday, December 20, 2010

After a lengthy blockade this year, Senate Republicans have agreed to let at least 19 of President Obama’s judicial nominees win confirmation in the waning days of the congressional session, in exchange for a commitment by Democrats not to seek votes on four other, more controversial picks, according to officials familiar with the deal.

Among the four still being blocked is Goodwin Liu, a law school dean seen as a potential future Supreme Court pick, whose nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has sparked strong criticism from Republicans.

As part of the arrangement, the Senate has approved 10 judges in the past few days without a single dissenting vote. One of them, Albert Diaz, had been awaiting confirmation to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., since clearing the SenateJudiciary Committee in January.

The agreement was worked out between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican counterpart Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, with the knowledge of the White House, officials said. Spokesmen for the two Senate leaders declined comment.

In the talks, Mr. Reid also pushed for confirmation for James Cole, whom Mr. Obama picked last spring for the No. 2 post in the Justice Department. His nomination to be deputy attorney general is opposed by Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and the state of the nomination is unclear.

Officials described the maneuvering on the condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.

Judicial nominations have become intensely political in recent years as presidents seek approval for nominees who frequently spark opposition from outside interest groups aligned with the opposing party, as well as from senators themselves.

Democrats filibustered several of President George W. Bush’s conservative nominees, refusing to allow a vote on some for years. The logjam was broken in the spring of 2005 in a compromise that allowed some to be confirmed while a smaller number were jettisoned.

More recently, Democrats have accused Republicans of delaying confirmation on even noncontroversial nominees advanced by Mr. Obama by refusing to permit them to come to a vote without a time-consuming process than can take three days on the Senate floor.

In remarks over the weekend, SenateJudiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said 49 circuit and district court nominations made by Mr. Obama had been approved so far, “less than half the number confirmed during the first Congress of the Bush administration.”

Before the action this weekend, Mr. Leahy said some 30 Obama judicial nominees, including seven to fill appeals court vacancies, were awaiting Senate confirmation.

The Senate has confirmed both of the president’s nominees to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

In addition to the 10 nominees confirmed since Thursday, the Senate is expected to approve at least nine more before lawmakers adjourn for the year. All have been pending in the Senate since Sept. 23 or before. Another 15 have been awaiting a vote for less than a month.

The unconfirmed nominations will expire when Congress adjourns for the year. Mr. Obama is free to reappoint them, but Republicans will have more seats in the Senate in 2011, and there is no assurance the most controversial among them would be approved quickly, if at all.

Along with Mr. Liu, the contested nominees include Edward Chen, Louis B. Butler Jr. and John J. McConnell Jr., all nominated to become U.S. District Court judges.

Mr. Liu is a dean at the University of California law school at Berkeley and the best known of the four. Supporters and critics alike speak of him as a potential future selection for the Supreme Court by a Democratic president. He also could be the first Supreme Court nominee of Asian-American descent.

Republicans have attacked his nomination from the first, citing in part Mr. Liu’s harsh criticism of Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. after he was nominated by President Bush.

Mr. Liu conceded he had used “unnecessarily colorful language” in criticizing Justice Alito and added, “I have the highest regard for Justice Alito’s career.”

But Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican who supported Mr. Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, called Mr. Liu “a bridge too far for me.”

“He should take those views and run for office,” Mr. Graham said.

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