Congress unlikely to vote on nominee from Va.

Md. senators had vowed fight over 4th Circuit seat

November 15, 2003|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Prospects faded yesterday for the Senate to act this year on the nomination of Claude A. Allen, the Virginian chosen by President Bush to fill a federal appeals court seat formerly held by a Marylander.

Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, both Democrats, say the 4th Circuit seat to which Allen has been nominated should go to a jurist from their state, as it has in the past, and are threatening to block a vote on his appointment. So far, Democrats have been successful in blocking other Bush nominees they oppose through filibusters.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee postponed action on Allen's nomination until Monday. That means that a committee vote, which is expected to follow party lines, could not be scheduled until Nov. 24, three days after Congress is scheduled to adjourn. The adjournment date could be delayed, though, with action still pending on a major energy overhaul, a Medicare prescription drug measure and most of next year's budget.

Congress has not set a date to reconvene, but the current plan is to return Jan. 20, the day after the Iowa caucuses for the 2004 presidential election.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called off a meeting of his panel yesterday because attendance was too low to allow votes. Allen's nomination was on the agenda, but Democrats had been expected to use their right to object to the vote and delay it one week.

Hatch has said he wants to find a way to placate Mikulski and Sarbanes - perhaps by promising that a future vacancy would go to Maryland.

"I haven't been successful so far," Hatch said. "I'm going to try and solve the problem. I don't want any colleagues feeling deprived." But he said he plans to advance Allen's nomination as soon as possible.

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