Olson, Bush's choice for solicitor general, confirmed by Senate

Vote on Bush choice for solicitor general is a hurried 51-47


WASHINGTON - Still in charge for now, Senate Republicans rushed to push through conservative attorney Theodore Olson's confirmation as solicitor general yesterday by a narrow 51-47 vote, in the face of attacks from Democrats on his hard-line politics and his candor.

The vote marks a hard-fought win for Olson in his ascension to a coveted job as the figurative "10th justice" on the U.S. Supreme Court, charged with arguing the federal government's cases before the high court.

Five months ago, he won the biggest case of his career in persuading the Supreme Court to side with his client, George W. Bush, in the Florida election battle.

And for Republicans, the vote represents one of their final hurrahs as the ruling party in the Senate before ceding control to Democrats in the coming weeks because of Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords' withdrawal from the GOP.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, pleased by the Olson vote, said afterward: "I trust that he will serve our country with honor, with his eyes on the Constitution and his objectives above politics. ... His talents will be a crucial component in our goal to make certain that no American feels beyond the protection of the law."

Many political observers thought the Democrats' takeover might doom President Bush's selection for solicitor general, which had deadlocked in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week on a 9-9 party-line vote.

But Republicans sought to bring the issue to a head yesterday while they still controlled the floor, a move that Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York branded "raw political partisanship." She voted against the confirmation.

Democratic leaders realized they didn't have the votes to defeat the nomination and didn't have the stomach to try to block it through a filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi approached Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, on Tuesday to see whether he would fight an effort to bring Olson's nomination to a vote.

"I told him I would not," Leahy said. "I didn't want to get involved in those kinds of parliamentary games. We've seen enough of that for six years" under a Republican-controlled Senate, he said.

The politicking mirrored the confirmation of Olson's future boss, Ashcroft, who was approved on a 58-42 Senate vote in February. Democrats mounted an aggressive attack against Ashcroft but ultimately decided not to try to block a vote through a filibuster.

2 Democratic votes

In Olson's win, Democratic Sens. Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska proved the decisive votes, crossing over with all 49 Republicans who were present in voting for confirmation.

Jeffords and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat, missed the vote.

"Clearly there were 51 votes for him, so you run into the same dynamic you had with Ashcroft, and the only way to kill the nomination was to filibuster," said a senior Democratic aide who asked not to be identified because of controversy surrounding the nomination.

"At this point, I don't think that the soon-to-be majority leader [Democrat Tom Daschle of South Dakota] wants to have to worry about something like Olson when we assume the reins of power," the aide said.

High-profile cases

Olson, a former Los Angeles attorney and a graduate of University of California, Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, has risen to legendary status in conservative circles as a pre-eminent legal mind, taking on high-profile cases on causes such as school desegregation and voting rights.

A former Justice Department official, he is a Washington-based partner at the blue-chip Los Angeles law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

He has earned high marks from all sides for his legal acumen, but his right-wing politics came under sharp attack from Democrats during his protracted confirmation.

Drawing the fiercest debate were his links to a conservative magazine called the American Spectator. He wrote anonymous articles for the magazine in recent years attacking Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and then-Attorney General Janet Reno.

Olson's nomination had been in limbo since April 5, when Democrats challenged his ability to be objective during his confirmation hearing.

They held up his nomination four times in the Judiciary Committee, first in an effort to get home-state veto power over Bush's judicial nominees and then by questioning whether Olson had been honest in his testimony about his connection to the Spectator.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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