Bush Won't Back Down On Judges

Lawyers increasingly are choosing state courts over federal when filing class-action lawsuits, believing those venues provide the better chance for a big payoff.
AP / CBS
Refusing to take no for an answer on 20 of his judicial choices, President Bush indicated Thursday that he intends to re-nominate them when the new Congress convenes, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller.

In a written statement, a White House spokesman said the Senate has a constitutional obligation to vote up or down on the president's judicial nominees. In most cases the votes were blocked by Democrats, but the White House statement avoided making any partisan charges.

During the past two years, despite the GOP majority in the Senate, Democrats used filibusters to prevent final votes from occurring on 10 of 34 of Mr. Bush's nominees to federal appeals courts.

"The president nominated highly qualified individuals to the federal courts during his first term, but the Senate failed to vote on many nominations," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in a statement the White House issued Thursday. "Unfortunately, this only exacerbates the issue of judicial vacancies, compounds the backlog of cases and delays timely justice for the American people."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist called for quick action and issued a statement that pressured Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to support the president's nominees. Specter, a moderate Republican, recently won the backing of Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans to be their new chairman despite his statement that judges who oppose abortion would have a difficult time gaining Senate confirmation, given the opposition from Democrats.

"The president has decided to re-nominate many highly qualified and capable individuals to serve as federal judges," Frist said. "I look forward to working with Sen. Specter, other Judiciary Committee members and my colleagues to ensure quick action and up and down votes on these judicial nominees."

Democrats reacted with irritation.

"I was extremely disappointed to learn today that the president intends to begin the new Congress by resubmitting extremist judicial nominees," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in a statement. "Last Congress, Senate Democrats worked with the president to approve 204 judicial nominees, rejecting only 10 of the most extreme."

Ralph Neas, head of People for the American Way, which worked to block several of the Bush appointments, said the president's decision signaled his renewal of partisan warfare. "The president and his team want to pack the federal courts with right-wing ideologues, and roll back decades of progress in social justice," he said.

When the 109th Congress convenes on Jan. 4, Mr. Bush intends to re-nominate the following 12 individuals for the U.S. Court of Appeals:

Terrence W. Boyle, 4th Circuit; Priscilla Richman Owen, 5th Circuit; David W. McKeague, 6th Circuit; Susan Bieke Neilson, 6th Circuit; Henry W. Saad, 6th Circuit; Richard A. Griffin, 6th Circuit; William H. Pryor; 11th Circuit; William Gerry Myers III, 9th Circuit; Janice Rogers Brown, District of Columbia Circuit; Brett M. Kavanaugh, District of Columbia Circuit; William James Haynes II, 4th Circuit; and Thomas B. Griffith, District of Columbia Circuit.

Mr. Bush also intends to nominate again the following eight people to less controversial U.S. District Court positions:

James C. Dever III, Eastern District, North Carolina; Thomas L. Ludington, Eastern District, Michigan; Robert J. Conrad, Western District, North Carolina; Daniel P. Ryan, Eastern District, Michigan; Peter G. Sheridan, New Jersey; Paul A. Crotty, Southern District, New York; Sean F. Cox, Eastern District, Michigan; and J. Michael Seabright, Hawaii.

Republicans hope their gain of four Senate seats on Election Day will discourage Democrats from using filibusters again. But in a Senate next year with 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and a Democrat-leaning independent, Democrats still will have the 40 votes necessary to uphold a filibuster. The Republicans need 60 votes to end a filibuster.

"I hope they'll receive better treatment than they did in the last Congress," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a Judiciary Committee member, said Thursday. "We experienced unprecedented filibusters of the president's judicial nominees, which I believe the voters repudiated on Nov. 2, both by returning the president with a decisive victory and defeating the chief obstructionist in the Senate, that was the minority leader.

"The dynamics of 2006 are in play here," Cornyn said. "Those Democratic senators up for re-election in states Bush did very well in have to be looking at what happened to Tom Daschle in South Dakota and wondering if the same fate is in store for them if they continue to obstruct and prevent up or down votes on the president's nominees."

Daschle's Nov. 2 election loss cost him his Senate seat and the job of Senate minority leader.

Of the 10 appeals court nominees blocked by the Democrats, four are missing from Mr. Bush's new list of nominees for the federal bench.

Charles Pickering Sr.'s bruising battle for a seat on a federal appeals court abruptly ended when Mr. Bush, in a recess appointment, elevated him without congressional approval. But on Dec. 9, Pickering announced his retirement, saying he would not seek nomination for a permanent seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The other three are: Miguel Estrada, a native of Honduras and former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy who has been mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee; California judge Carolyn Kuhl; and Claude Allen, whose Virginia residency upset Maryland's two senators because the post to which he was nominated on the 4th Circuit typically is held by a Marylander.