Senate ends long fight, confirming two judges

Partisan debates kept one nominee waiting 4 years, the other 2

March 10, 2000|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- After enduring a record 1,506-day wait, U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Paez of Los Angeles yesterday received Senate confirmation for an appointment to a federal appeals court.

The surprisingly lopsided 59-39 vote ended a bitter partisan fight over the long-stalled nomination -- one capped by Vice President Al Gore suspending his presidential campaign to stand by in the Capitol to cast a tie-breaking vote, if needed.

But Gore's vote was not needed. Fourteen Republicans broke with Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, and joined all 45 Senate Democrats in voting to confirm Paez as a member of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. San Francisco labor lawyer Marsha L. Berzon also was confirmed, on a 64-34 vote, for a seat on the appeals panel, which serves California and eight other Western states.

Paez, the first Mexican-American to sit on the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, waited longer for a vote than any judicial nominee in U.S. history. He had become the symbol of Democratic accusations that the Senate GOP majority was subjecting minority and women judicial appointees to unfair scrutiny.

The criticism was heightened in the fall after the Senate, on a party-line vote, rejected Ronnie White, the first black justice on the Missouri Supreme Court, for a federal judgeship.

Lott denied any Republican bias, noting that 18 of the 34 judges confirmed by the Senate last year were minorities and women. This week, the Senate confirmed another Latino judge, Julio Fuentes of New Jersey, to the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals, by a 93-0 vote. Fuentes was nominated a year ago.

Opponennts of Paez and Berzon have criticized them as judicial activists who would shift a "rogue" circuit court further to the left.

"The [9th] circuit is out of control, and these nominees will make it worse," Lott said.

At the White House, President Clinton thanked the Senate but urged lawmakers to fill 74 remaining vacancies on the bench -- about 9 percent of federal judgeships -- that have caused backlogs in handling cases.

Reached in Los Angeles after the vote, Paez, 52, said he was "pleased and honored by the Senate's decision to confirm my nomination. I'm very grateful.

"I'd like to thank President Clinton and all of his administration, including the vice president, for their unwavering and unlimited support of my nomination," said Paez, who was presiding over a trial during the vote. "I also would like to thank all of the senators who spoke on my behalf, supported my nomination and who voted for confirmation today."

Latinos hold 42 of 879 positions in the federal judiciary -- or about

4.5 percent of the total -- even though they make up 11 percent of the nation's population and are projected to become the nation's largest minority group in 2005, according to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The National Women's Law Center in Washington issued a statement lauding the confirmations and praising Berzon's "expertise in employment discrimination and other areas of the law that are central to equal opportunity for women."

Reached at her law office in San Francisco, Berzon, 54, said that she looks "forward to sitting on the 9th Circuit and pledge my very best efforts to approach every case in a fair, thoughtful and open-minded manner."

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, forced a vote on Paez, who was nominated in January 1996, and Berzon, nominated in January 1998, by blocking a vote on the appointment of the mayor of Tupelo, Miss., to the Tennessee Valley Authority board.

In addition to voting on the 9th Circuit appointments, legislation was introduced to split the court into two circuits, one that would include California, Nevada and Arizona, and a new 12th Circuit encompassing Hawaii and the Northwestern states, including Alaska. GOP senators contended that the 9th circuit -- the nation's biggest -- is too large to function well.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.