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Senate confirms pro-life judge, 51-46, despite opposition

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate has confirmed a nominee to a federal judgeship in Arkansas in spite of opposition from abortion-rights and feminist organizations.

In a 51-46 vote July 6, the Senate confirmed J. Leon Holmes to the Eastern District Court in Arkansas.

Six Democrats voted with the Republican majority in order to make Holmes’ confirmation possible. Those six were Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, who represent Holmes’ state, as well as John Breaux and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Five Republicans voted against confirmation: Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snow of Maine, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and John Warner of Virginia.

Holmes was the last of 25 judicial nominees to receive a floor vote as a result of an agreement between President Bush and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D.-S.D., according to The Hill newspaper. Daschle agreed not to filibuster the 25 nominees if Bush promised not to make recess appointments to the bench the remainder of the year.

Opponents charged that Holmes was unsuitable for the federal bench because of his pro-life advocacy. He had served as president of Arkansas Right to Life. Critics also portrayed him as anti-woman, citing in particular an article his wife, Susan, and he wrote in 1997 for a Roman Catholic publication.

In the article about the roles of men and women, they described the relationship between the church and Christ as “an unseen reality that is signified in the visible world … especially by the relationship between husband and wife. Hence, the husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church; and as the Church subordinates herself to Christ, in that manner the wife is to subordinate herself to her husband. … The Church is to place herself under the protection of Christ and ipso facto place herself under His authority. Likewise, the woman is to place herself under the authority of the man and ipso facto place herself under his authority.”

That explanation of Ephesians 5 elicited strong criticism, including from a fellow Catholic, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass.

“It doesn’t get much more extreme than that,” Kennedy said on the floor of the Senate before the confirmation vote. “This nomination is an insult to working women. It is an insult to all Americans who believe in fairness and equality.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Mormon, said in defending Holmes on the floor, “[I]f it comes down to a choice between St. Paul and my distinguished friend from Massachusetts, Senator Kennedy, or my distinguished friend from Illinois, Senator [Richard] Durbin, I think I will take St. Paul every time, and I think most everybody else in the country would, too. [Holmes] and his wife were quoting St. Paul.

“A fair reading of the article would show a support for the equality of women,” said Hatch, a Republican from Utah. “Democratic women in his law firm whom he mentored and tutored and helped and worked with and works with today have testified through letters to us that they trust him, believe in him. Even though they differ with his views in some matters, they know he will follow the law because they know he is devoted to the law.”

Some defenders of Holmes cast the confirmation battle as a showdown over the right of potential judges to express their religious viewpoints.

“[The] vote shows that indeed the U.S. Senate does have a conscience,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a written statement. “At the end of the day, this was a debate about whether a person who has deeply held religious beliefs can still be a public servant in this country.

“Despite the religious bigotry of the left and strong lobbying efforts by pro-abortion forces, 51 U.S. senators chose not to take part in character assassination and instead cast their vote based on Leon Holmes’ integrity, credentials and legal expertise.”

Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, criticized the confirmation as a “mark of shame on the Senate roll call, but a call to action for women nationwide.” PPFA operates the country’s largest chain of abortion clinics.

While one of Bush’s highly contested nominees cleared confirmation, Senate Democrats continue to block confirmation votes on some of his appellate nominees. The Democrats maintain their blocking techniques on Janice Rogers Brown, a District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals nominee; Carolyn Kuhl, a Ninth Circuit selection; and Priscilla Owen, a Fifth Circuit nominee.

The nominees have received the majority of votes necessary for confirmation but not the 60 votes required to halt a filibuster by Democrats.

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