Bush nominates first judges, asks ‘civility’ in confirmation
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush began putting his conservative imprint on the judiciary Wednesday as he announced his choices to fill the first of 100 vacancies on the federal bench. Postponing controversial selections, Bush appealed for ”civility and dignity” in the Senate verdict on his inaugural slate of 11 nominees.
”I urge senators of both parties to rise above the bitterness of the past, to provide a fair hearing and a prompt vote to every nominee,” the president said at an East Room ceremony.
The would-be appeals court judges – chosen after White House consultations with their homestate senators and meant for smooth confirmation by the evenly divided Senate – stood beside Bush on a three-tiered riser.
”Individuals of experience and character,” he called them. Seven are sitting judges, three practice law and one is a law professor.
Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, the only Senate Democrat to show up, welcomed Bush’s first round of picks, which include two nominees previously tapped by former President Clinton – Barrington Parker Jr. and Roger Gregory.
”Had I not been encouraged, I would not have been here today,” said Leahy, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He brought a camera and prevailed upon an audience member to snap him mugging with Republican Sens. Strom Thurmond and Orrin Hatch.
But even before the White House ceremony began, Democratic leaders reminded reporters that Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., could make good on his promise to block the nomination of Terrence Boyle of North Carolina.
Boyle has been caught in a partisan tug of war since Bush’s father nominated the District judge and former aide to Sen. Jesse Helms to the federal bench in 1991. Democrats blocked Boyle then, and Helms, R-N.C., subsequently retaliated by blocking all of Clinton’s nominees from North Carolina.
Bush withheld planned nominations of at least four conservatives to avoid such Democratic objections.
Controversy and contention have surrounded the judicial confirmation process throughout the nation’s history, but the acrimony reached especially high levels when Democrats scuttled the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork in 1987. Republicans, in turn, blocked several Clinton nominees to lower court seats.
Bush, who has long cited Supreme Court conservatives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as his models, said he will only nominate ”a person who clearly understands the role of a judge is to interpret the law, not to legislate from the bench.”
Those in Wednesday’s lineup are mostly conservative although Bush took pains to offer a diverse slate by appointing three women, two blacks and one Hispanic.
”This is just a good P.R. initiative because obviously, with Parker and Gregory, there’s an appearance of a compromise, an appearance of moderation. But there are many more to go,” said Ralph Neas, president of the liberal People For the American Way.
While most liberal-leaning activists held their tongues Wednesday, Bush did raise their eyebrows.
University of Utah law professor Michael McConnell, nominated to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, is recognized in legal circles as especially conservative on abortion rights and church-state separation. And disability activists were quick Wednesday to protest the selection of former Ohio state solicitor Jeffrey Sutton for the 6th Circuit. Sutton had successfully argued to the Supreme Court that state employees can’t use federal disability rights to collect damages for on-the-job discrimination.
Miguel Estrada, nominee to the D.C. Circuit, is a partner in the Washington firm that represented Bush at the Supreme Court during his postelection legal fight with Al Gore.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle said little else than that he was pleased ”that the White House has chosen to work with us on the first group.”
Asked about prospects for swift confirmation, Leahy said Democrats on the Judiciary Committee would wait at least until a careful review of candidates by the American Bar Association.
Bush asked for ”good faith” from the Senate. He cited the ”backlogs, frustration and delay of justice” caused by vacancies.
Also nominated to the appeals courts, which are the regional U.S. courts that serve as last stop before the U.S. Supreme Court, were: U.S. District Judge Edith Brown Clement and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Richman Owen to the 5th Circuit; Ohio Supreme Court Justice Deborah L. Cook to the 6th Circuit; Washington-area attorney John G. Roberts Jr., a former deputy solicitor under Kenneth Starr, to the D.C. Circuit, and U.S. District Court Judge Dennis W. Shedd to the 4th Circuit.
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