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Committee sends judicial nominee Kavanaugh to full Senate

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United States Senate Judiciary Committee voted out another embattled judicial nominee May 11.

The committee voted 10-8 along party lines, with Republicans in the majority, to send Brett Kavanaugh to the full Senate for confirmation to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. President Bush nominated Kavanaugh, one of his aides, to what is regarded as the country’s most prestigious federal appeals court in 2003, but Democrats fought and delayed his confirmation.

It is uncertain if Democrats will seek to filibuster Kavanaugh, whom they questioned regarding his potential participation in highly criticized White House policies and programs. A Democratic filibuster would appear to hinge on the decisions from a group of senators known as the Gang of 14. Those senators, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, have banded together to broker votes on judicial nominees in the last year.

On the eve of a vote last May to change the rules and end filibusters of nominees by a majority vote, the Gang of 14 reached an agreement that blocked such an action. The seven Democrats reserved the right to filibuster nominees in “extraordinary circumstances,” while the Republicans, under the agreement, committed not to support an attempt to change the rule requiring 60 votes to end a judicial filibuster.

On May 10, the day between Kavanaugh’s second hearing and the committee vote, one of the Gang of 14 said he saw no reason for a filibuster. “There’s nothing extraordinary about him” except his qualifications, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., said, according to The Hill newspaper.

Democrats, meanwhile, turned their criticism toward two other appellate nominees, Terrence Boyle and Michael Wallace. The president has nominated Boyle to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and Wallace to the Fifth Circuit.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D.-Vt., lashed out at both May 11, saying, “They’d be an embarrassment to even be debated on the floor,” according to The Washington Post.

Senate opponents and liberal organizations have criticized Boyle, saying his record on the bench is weak, he has had conflicts of interest and he has opposed civil rights and women’s rights. Boyle’s supporters have refuted those charges.

The Gang of 14 asked Senate leaders for a second hearing on Boyle, even though the Judiciary Committee voted him out last year. Some Republicans among the group refused May 10 to say they supported him, according to The Hill.

A 15-member committee of the American Bar Association unanimously gave Wallace an “unqualified” rating May 10, marking the first such vote since 1982, The Post reported. Wallace served as a law clerk for the late William Rehnquist when he was an associate justice on the Supreme Court.

Bush originally nominated Boyle in 2001. The president selected Wallace in February.

It is uncertain if Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will attempt a floor vote on Kavanaugh before the Memorial Day recess or in June, The Hill reported.

Kavanaugh, 41, has served as the president’s staff secretary since 2003 after being an associate White House counsel for two years. He also worked with independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the investigation that led to the impeachment of President Clinton. Earlier, Kavanaugh served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy.

In June 2005, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution calling for the Senate to confirm judicial nominees by the traditional majority vote and for presidents to nominate judges who “interpret rather than make law.” The resolution also commended Frist and encouraged Southern Baptists to urge their senators to halt the “obstruction of judicial nominees.”

The Fourth Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Va., consists of federal courts in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The Fifth Circuit is made up of federal courts in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

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