Bush sends judge list to Senate

The 11 nominees are carefully selected to mollify Democrats

Notable for diversity

U.S. appeals court candidates include vocal conservatives

May 10, 2001|By David L. Greene and Thomas Healy | David L. Greene and Thomas Healy,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush sent to the Senate yesterday his first slate of judicial nominees, a list of 11 candidates for federal appeals court judgeships, most of whom are conservative but were carefully chosen to mollify wary Democrats, at least for now.

Mindful that Democrats in the evenly divided Senate have vowed to fight if the White House sends them objectionable names, Bush took the unusual step of holding a White House ceremony to introduce his nominees and to call publicly for a fair hearing.

"Over the years, we have seen how the confirmation process can be turned to other ends," Bush said. "We have seen political battles played in committee hearings, battles that have little to do with the merits of the person sitting before the committee. This is not good for the Senate, for our courts or for the country."

Many Senate Democrats said that if the president is serious about keeping the nominating process conciliatory, they are prepared to work closely with him in the confirmation process. But they warned anew that they are on guard against any effort to pack the courts with staunch conservatives.

"We are very respectful of the president's right - in fact, some would say duty - to nominate, but at the same time, we have a constitutional duty that has existed since the beginning of the country, and that is to advise and consent," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, which holds Senate confirmation hearings.

"It's not nominate and rubber-stamp," Leahy said. "It's nominate, and advise and consent."

One fight is already brewing over the nomination of Terrence W. Boyle, a U.S. District Court judge from North Carolina who was tapped by Bush to fill a vacancy on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles cases from Maryland and four other states.

Sen. John Edwards, a North Carolina Democrat, has said he will not support Boyle's nomination until the White House agrees to reconsider North Carolinians who were nominated by President Bill Clinton but were blocked by Republicans in the last Congress.

The batch of 11 nominees released yesterday is notable for its diversity - it includes three women, two African-Americans and one Hispanic. The list also includes several outspoken conservatives who have been vocal in their support for expanding states' rights and redefining the separation of church and state.

Bush received praise from Democrats for nominating Roger Gregory to the 4th Circuit Court. He is the first black judge to sit on that circuit, which has a larger percentage of black residents than any other circuit.

Gregory, a lawyer from Virginia, had been given a temporary recess appointment late last year by Clinton. Many Democrats, as well as Virginia's two Republican senators, urged Bush to make Gregory's position on the 4th Circuit Court permanent.

Administration officials did not hide that they had included Gregory in part to allay Democratic concerns. Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said Bush nominated Gregory "because he believes that Roger Gregory is qualified, and he also believes it's important to work well with the other party. And the president hopes that the other party will show a willingness to work well with him."

But some of Bush's critics expressed concern that he had given his opponents an olive branch with his first wave of nominees but would likely move in the future to tap more conservative nominees.

"This particular batch of 11 reflects some strategic thinking," said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, a liberal interest group in Washington. "There's an appearance of bipartisanship and compromise. But we know there are another 59 or so ready to go, and even among the 11 today, eight are very conservative."

After floating a list of potential nominees to senators in recent days, the White House decided to table several contentious nominations, including that of Peter D. Keisler, a conservative Washington lawyer Bush was planning to appoint to the 4th Circuit.

Keisler, a Bethesda resident, was opposed by both of Maryland's two Democratic senators.

By releasing his first nominees, Bush began a process that could become one of the big battles of his presidency and reignite partisan bickering over judicial nominees that has persisted since the failed nomination of Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987.

For weeks, Democrats have been sparring with Republicans, whom they accuse of trying to curb the traditional power of senators to block objectionable nominees from their home states. Democrats have vowed to hold up confirmation hearings over this issue, and the first test will likely be Edwards' opposition to Boyle.

"We are a 50-50 Senate," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. "The American people called for moderation and bipartisanship, not for a group of judges who are hard-right to one corner."

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