Senate, Bush reach a deal on judges


WASHINGTON - In an unusual display of election-year harmony, Senate Democrats and Republicans, along with the White House, struck a political compromise yesterday that clears the way for confirmation of a number of President Bush's less controversial judicial nominees.

Bush pledged not to bypass the Senate by appointing judicial nominees to the bench while Congress is in recess. In return, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said the Democrats agreed to allow votes on 25 judicial nominees.

But the spirit of compromise only goes so far; Daschle said Democrats would continue to filibuster several of Bush's judicial nominees whom they regard as too conservative.

The agreement, which lasts through the end of Bush's current term, drew grudging acceptance from the president's conservative allies. In a typical comment, Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, said: "It's not something that I like, but it's a way to get more judges, and it's the best we can do right now."

White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said: "President Bush believes it's important to fill judicial vacancies in a timely manner, and this agreement is an important step toward meeting that objective."

Judicial appointments have long been a contentious issue. Bush and his congressional allies have accused Democrats of "unprecedented obstructionism" to prevent confirmation votes; Democrats have accused the president of trying to make lifetime appointments of federal judges who will undermine environmental protections, abortion rights and civil rights.

Bush infuriated Democrats this year by appointing Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor Jr. and U.S. District Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. of Mississippi to appeals courts while Congress was in recess. In response, Senate Democrats blocked votes on any further judicial nominations.

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