Senate Gab-Fest Goes On

Sen.Tim Johnson, D-S.D., speaks in the Senate chamber Friday, Nov. 14, 2003, on Capitol Hill in Washington in this image from video taken during the 36th hour of a marathon session organized by Republicans to protest Democratic filibusters. Republicans insisted there was no precedent for refusing to allow votes on the president's judicial choices. (AP Photo/APTN)
AP
Almost two straight days of debate on President Bush's blocked judicial nominees changed little in a bleary-eyed, groggy-voiced Senate, with Republicans conceding that they can't stop Democrats from successfully blocking two more conservative jurists from the federal appeals court.

"I don't see a way out," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who called for an extra nine hours of debate Thursday night and now is considering suing the Senate to ban judicial filibusters. "Nobody is going to change their votes."

Democrats say they warned the GOP that the round-the-clock debate wouldn't work.

"I'm terribly disappointed that we are spending the time of this institution on something like this when we need to be spending what little time we have on so many other questions," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.

The Senate on Friday will hold votes on whether to break the filibuster on Texas judge Priscilla Owen, as well as new filibusters on California judges Carolyn Kuhl and Janice Rogers Brown.

Owen, who wants a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, has already lost three filibuster votes, while Friday's votes will be the first for Brown and Kuhl. Brown wants a seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and Kuhl a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Mr. Bush brought all three women to the White House Thursday to demand their confirmation.

"I have told these three ladies I will stand with them to the bitter end because they're the absolute right pick for their respective positions," Mr. Bush said. "The senators who are playing politics with their nominations are acting shamefully."

With the blocking of Kuhl and Brown, Democrats will have stopped six Bush nominees: Owen, Brown, Kuhl, Mississippi judge Charles Pickering, Alabama Attorney General William Pryor and Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada. Estrada dropped his nomination after losing nine filibuster votes.

The Senate has confirmed 168 Bush judicial nominees.

The GOP considered the nonstop debate a victory, saying Americans now are focused on what they called the Democrats' "unconstitutional filibusters" of judicial nominees.

Instead of allowing the Republicans to use their 51 votes to confirm nominees, Democrats have used procedures that required Republicans to come up with 60 votes to advance the president's choices.

Republicans have yet to hit the 60-vote mark on controversial nominations.

"For the first time, people are paying attention to an issue that a lot of people feel passionate about," said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., adding that his office has been flooded with calls from supporters. "Now the general public is becoming aware of it and I think it will become much more of a discussion point and an important one."

Democrats also said they won the debate by showing that the GOP is focused on the wrong issues, spending two legislative days talking about judicial nominees instead of finishing bills revamping Medicare and energy policy, not to mention eight overdue spending bills, in time to adjourn by Nov. 21.

"I think people are amused and wondering why the Senate isn't working on more important things," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Democrats contend the nominees in question are well outside the judicial mainstream. Republicans retort that Congress' duty is to advise and consent to the president's picks.

Owens had controversial rulings in cases involving Texas' parental notification law requiring that parents be informed first before an abortion is performed on a minor.

Those decisions have drawn criticism, even from Mr. Bush's own general counsel, Alberto Gonzales, who served with her on the Texas court. Opponents also have pointed to the $8,600 in campaign contributions Owens accepted from now-bankrupt Enron Corp. of Houston and a majority opinion that she wrote two years later reducing Enron's taxes.

Pickering's opponents complain that he supported segregation as a young man in Mississippi. They also point to his votes as a Mississippi state lawmaker against abortion and voting rights, and his judicial decisions, including efforts to reduce the sentence of a man convicted of burning a cross on the lawn of an interracial couple.

Republicans have countered that Pickering advocated voting rights for blacks in the 1960s and led integration efforts in the 1970s and 1980s.

Abortion rights and civil rights groups oppose Pryor, who has dubbed the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion "the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history," and criticized part of the Voting Rights Act that requires areas under scrutiny for past voting rights violations to approve all voting changes with federal authorities.

Brown is accused of holding extreme views on restricting government — calling Supreme Court's upholding of New Deal legislation "the triumph of our own socialist revolution" — and opposing affirmative action and abortion rights.

Abortion is also a key issue for opponents of Kuhl, who, according to activists, made an active effort to maintain the federal "gag" rule that prevented clinics getting government money from discussing abortion with patients.

Estrada was blocked in part because the administration would not release to senators any of his writings from his time at the Justice Department. Democrats claimed they needed this material to evaluate his temperament, since he had never been a judge.