The GOP-controlled Senate on Thursday approved former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor for a seat on the U.S. Appeals Court, nearing the end of an unprecedented run of long-delayed judicial confirmations.
With a vote of 53-45, Pryor was approved for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Atlanta-based court that handles federal appeals from Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss reports Pryor was first nominated more than two years ago, one of the handful of appeals court judges blocked by Democrats who say he is too political and too conservative, pointing especially to his strong anti-abortion views and criticism of federal anti-discrimination laws.
After he was blocked, President Bush gave Pryor a rare recess appointment to serve on the appeals court temporarily, but now his appointment is permanent.
The Senate has now confirmed three of Mr. Bush's most-wanted appellate nominees in less than three weeks after a deal struck by Senate centrists looking to avoid a partisan battle over judicial filibusters.
Pryor, Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen all had been waiting at least two years for Senate confirmation.
By clearing its slate of those three, the Senate was free to consider other nominees, like Michigan judges David McKeague and Richard Griffin, nominated to the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati, and North Carolina judge Terrence Boyle, nominated to the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va.
Democrats withdrew their objections to the Michigan judges' confirmation during the back-and-forth negotiations. The decision of North Carolinians to elect two Republicans to the Senate will likely clear Boyle for eventual approval.
Boyle's own long-simmering efforts to win a seat on the 4th Circuit stretch back to 1991, when he was nominated by the first President Bush.
After Democrats killed the nomination, Republican Sen. Jesse Helms blocked all of President Clinton's judicial nominations from North Carolina for eight years. In retaliation, Democratic Sen. John Edwards refused to let the Judiciary Committee consider the nomination of Boyle, a former Helms aide, from 1998-2004. Both Helms and Edwards have since left the Senate.
The committee on Thursday delayed an expected vote on Boyle.Beyond those nominees, senators plan to leave Mr. Bush's other controversial nominees dangling while they wait to see if there's a Supreme Court debate in their future.
The Senate is eager to move on to considering energy legislation and spending bills instead of taking up Mr. Bush's other appellate nominees, including Henry Saad, William Myers, William Haynes and Brett Kavanaugh. They were not guaranteed confirmation votes in the centrist agreement, and Democrats are expected to try to block all of them.
Frist said Tuesday he wasn't avoiding a fight over those nominations. "As they come out of committee, we're going to bring them to the floor," he said.
Myers' nomination already is pending in the full Senate, and the others have yet to get a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Overshadowing everything is a potential vacancy on the Supreme Court. The most likely retirement this summer is 80-year-old Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who has cancer. The Senate then would have to debate Mr. Bush's choice for that court, pushing other nominees even further back in the queue.
Seven Democrats and seven Republicans signed a pact last month pledging not to filibuster judicial nominees except in extraordinary circumstances. At the same time, they agreed to oppose attempts by GOP leaders to change filibuster procedures.
The third prong in the agreement was to end the filibusters of Owen, Brown and Pryor, virtually guaranteeing their confirmation.
It takes 60 votes to bypass a filibuster. In July 2003, Republicans were able to get only 53 votes for the state attorney general. In November 2003, they were able to get 51 votes for Pryor and 53 votes for Brown. The two have been stuck since then.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 56-43 to confirm Brown to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and 67-32 to end the filibuster of Pryor.
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