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Senate panel delays action on most judicial nominees

WASHINGTON (BP)–The effort to confirm President Bush’s judicial nominees made little progress Sept. 21.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted out only one of six federal appeals court selections and four of 10 district court choices on the agenda.

The panel sent Randy Smith, a nominee to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, to the full Senate on a 10-8, party-line vote, with Republicans in the majority. The committee held over another Ninth Circuit nominee, William Myers, as well as Terrence Boyle and William Haynes, Fourth Circuit selections; Kent Jordan, a Third Circuit choice, and District of Columbia Circuit nominee Peter Keisler.

Chairman Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., scheduled a special executive business meeting of the committee Sept. 26. A panel session also may be held Sept. 28.

Hopes for committee clearance of at least some of the appeals court nominees are not high. The Senate is expected to recess Sept. 29, although a lame-duck session may be held after the November election.

Smith’s nomination has no assurance of surviving. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D.-Calif., threatened after the panel’s vote to delay action on the floor by a filibuster, the Associated Press reported. Feinstein said she opposed Smith because he is from Idaho, not California, which is the dominant state in the Ninth Circuit.

The committee’s failure to act on the five appellate recommendations continued a pattern of Democratic opposition to numerous nominees in both of Bush’s terms. Liberals have criticized and worked to block nominees they perceived as too conservative, especially on issues such as abortion and homosexual activism.

No one has been blocked as long as Boyle, who was first nominated by Bush to the Fourth Circuit in 2001.

This summer, Democrats constructed an additional hurdle in the confirmation process. They declined to abide by the normally routine practice of agreeing to allow nominees to remain active through the August recess. As a result, Bush resubmitted five of his appeals court nominees to the Senate before it reconvened.

Republicans contributed to the Democrats’ success Sept. 14, when five GOP members and seven Democrats failed to attend a Judiciary business meeting to consider four appellate nominees. Specter had to adjourn the session for lack of a quorum, said Kay Daly, president of the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary.

“Given that the Republicans could lose Senate seats this November, the odds that the president’s best nominees to the court of appeals will be confirmed are now slim to none,” Daly said in an online commentary the next day.

Messengers to this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in June in Greensboro, N.C., passed a resolution encouraging the president to continue to nominate “strict constructionist judges” and urging the Senate to vote on all nominees. SBC messengers approved a similar measure in 2005.

The most recent appeals court nominee to be approved is Kimberly Moore, a law professor at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. The Senate confirmed her to the D.C. Circuit Sept. 5 in a 92-0 vote.

The four district court judges approved by the committee Sept. 21 are Valerie Baker, Philip Gutierrez and Lawrence O’Neill, all to judgeships in California, and Francisco Besosa to the court in Puerto Rico.

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