Senate To Vote On Judge Nominee

President Bush meets in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington with judicial nominee Priscilla Owen Tuesday, May 24, 2005.
Priscilla Owen has been a federal judge-in-waiting for four years, two months and one day. Not that anyone is counting.

"I appreciate the fact I'm finally going to get a vote," she said Tuesday, invited to the White House for a presidential show of support after the Senate cleared the way for her approval. "She is my friend and more importantly she is a great judge," said Bush, a fellow Texan.

The vote was 81-18 to clear Owen for a final vote after Democrats abandoned four years of blocking action, well above the 60 votes needed to cut off debate. That made confirmation a mere formality, with a vote set for midday Wednesday.

At the same time, senators disagreed over the precise meaning and staying power of a compromise forged by centrist senators Monday night that averted a showdown over judicial nominees — including any to the Supreme Court — and the Senate's own filibuster rules.

"I do not agree with it because it does not get the job done of ensuring fair, up-or-down votes on all judicial nominees sent to the Senate by the president," Majority Leader Bill Frist said in an e-mail to political supporters.

In remarks on the Senate floor, he said the agreement, "if followed in good faith, will make filibusters of judicial nominees in the future, including Supreme Court nominees, almost impossible." At the same time, he said his ability to seek a limitation of the rights of Democrats to filibuster "remains on the table."

Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada disagreed, and said so quickly.

"The agreement that will allow Justice Owen to receive an up-or-down vote also had the effect of taking the nuclear option off the table," he said, referring to Frist's threat to strip Democrats of their ability to filibuster. "This agreement makes clear that the Senate rules have not changed. The filibuster remains available to the Senate minority."

His office sought political gain from the agreement, e-mailing outside groups to suggest they hail the pact as a "victory over the radical right." Some complied, but the Congressional Black Caucus and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force were sharply critical.

Under Senate rules, opponents of legislation or a nomination can prevent final action by erecting a 60-vote hurdle, a parliamentary device known as a filibuster.

Republican Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, one of seven Republicans and seven Democrats to sign the accord, sided with Frist's interpretation, although he and other members of the bipartisan group of negotiators said they expected good faith to prevail.

Those who say otherwise "are the same ones, I think, who said we would never get an agreement," said John McCain, R-Ariz.

That accord was sealed Monday evening around a table in McCain's office.

One of the dealmakers, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. told CBS News Correspondent Gloria Borger that outside partisanship has gone too far.

"Some groups, the test is not whether you agree with their issue but whether you will hate the people they hate. I hope that the politics of hate will be replaced by the politics of honest disagreement,'' Graham said.