2 Nominees From Md. Get Senate Hearings

Gop Has Concerns About Davis For Federal Judgeship And Perez For A Top Justice Department Post

April 30, 2009|By Paul West | Paul West,paul.west@baltsun.com

Washington - U.S. District Judge Andr? M. Davis of Baltimore and top Justice Department nominee Tom Perez got a generally cordial reception at a Senate hearing Wednesday, but it remains unclear how long it will take for them to assume their new jobs.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who chaired the Senate confirmation hearing, said in a brief interview that it would take "at least a couple weeks" before the Judiciary committee acted on the nominations.

Republicans could block votes on one or both men, either in committee or by the full Senate. "There's rumors on both cases that there are some concerns. I don't know how deep it is," said Cardin, quickly adding that there are "rumors on every appointment."

The hearing was sparsely attended by senators, though the event drew a standing-room crowd.

Just one Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, made an appearance. But his questions were mild compared with those of Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.

The Wisconsin maverick grilled Davis, who has been nominated for a second time to fill a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judgeship that has been vacant for almost nine years, over his connections to a Montana-based group that stages conferences for federal judges.

Feingold, a critic of unofficial, expenses-paid travel by federal judges, pointed out that Davis had taken "a number" of trips paid for by outside organizations. He expressed particular concern about Davis' service as a board member of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, which receives funding from corporations and conservative foundations.

Davis served on FREE's board in 2003 and 2004, resigning after a judicial ethics commission advised him that his participation violated two canons of judicial ethics. In response to a question from Feingold, the Baltimore judge said he "absolutely" sees the difference between accepting expenses-paid trips from such groups, which is not considered an ethical violation, and becoming a member of the organization, which is.

Davis, 60, was picked to fill the "Maryland" seat on the 4th Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 2000, but his nomination fell victim to judicial politics, and he was never confirmed.

Perez, nominated to head the civil rights division at the Justice Department, was questioned by Coburn, a physician, about discrimination in health care. Perez, the state's labor secretary, said he dealt with cases of outright racial discrimination at hospitals when he headed the civil rights division of the Department of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration.

In opening remarks, Perez, 47, pledged to depoliticize the civil rights division at the Justice Department if confirmed. An inspector general's report, released this year, sharply criticized Bush administration officials for allowing ideology and politics to influence hiring decisions.

Perez went out of his way to praise the department's initiatives, during the Bush years, to pursue religious discrimination and human-trafficking cases. But he also echoed Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama in saying that voting rights cases and the prosecution of hate crimes would again become top priorities.

In an interview, Perez called the hearing "a trip down memory lane, in terms of being home," referring to the years he spent as a top aide to Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on the Judiciary Committee.

The Maryland nominees were introduced at the hearing, with lavish praise, by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and retired Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, both Democrats.

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