President Bush announced yesterday his intention to renominate 20 people previously blocked by Senate Democrats for federal court seats, setting the stage for a renewal of the bitter partisan battles over the makeup of the federal judiciary.
The president's list includes seven appeals court candidates whose nominations were stalled on the Senate floor by Democrats, who said the nominees' conservative views were out of the mainstream. The other nominations never made it to the full Senate. Buoyed by his reelection and a four-seat Republican gain in the Senate, Bush said he will submit the nominees' names when the Senate returns to work next month.
WILLIAM GERRY MYERS III
List of Bush's Judicial Nominees|
Court of Appeals:
Terrence W. Boyle (4th Circuit) (first nominated May 9, 2001)
Priscilla Richman Owen (5th Circuit) (first nominated May 9, 2001)
David W. McKeague (6th Circuit) (first nominated November 8, 2001)
Susan Bieke Neilson (6th Circuit) (first nominated November 8, 2001)
Henry W. Saad (6th Circuit) (first nominated November 8, 2001)
Richard A. Griffin (6th Circuit) (first nominated June 26, 2002)
William H. Pryor (11th Circuit) (first nominated April 9, 2003)
William Gerry Myers, III (9th Circuit) (first nominated May 15, 2003)
Janice Rogers Brown (District of Columbia Circuit) (first nominated July 25, 2003)
Brett M. Kavanaugh (District of Columbia Circuit) (first nominated July 25, 2003)
William James Haynes, II (4th Circuit) (first nominated September 29, 2003)
Thomas B. Griffith (District of Columbia Circuit) (first nominated May 10, 2004)
James C. Dever, III (Eastern District, North Carolina) (first nominated May 22, 2002)
Thomas L. Ludington (Eastern District, Michigan) (first nominated September 12, 2002)
Robert J. Conrad (Western District, North Carolina) (first nominated April 28, 2003)
Daniel P. Ryan (Eastern District, Michigan) (first nominated April 28, 2003)
Peter G. Sheridan (New Jersey) (first nominated November 5, 2003)
Paul A. Crotty (Southern District, New York) (first nominated September 7, 2004)
Sean F. Cox (Eastern District, Michigan) (first nominated September 10, 2004)
J. Michael Seabright (Hawaii) (first nominated September 15, 2004)
Among the most prominent names on the list are Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Richman Owen, who was previously nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit; California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, previously nominated to a seat on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; and former associate White House counsel Brett M. Kavanaugh, who was also nominated to the D.C. Circuit. William J. Haynes II, who served as Pentagon general counsel when controversial detainee policies were set, will again be a nominee for the 4th Circuit.
Another is former Alabama attorney general William H. Pryor, an outspoken abortion opponent, for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. Pryor was appointed by Bush last year to the 11th Circuit while Congress was in recess; Pryor needs Senate confirmation to stay on the court.
"The Senate has a constitutional obligation to vote up or down on a president's judicial nominees, and the president looks forward to working with the new Senate to ensure a well-functioning and independent judiciary," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. He said 16 of the 20 people being renominated have been waiting for more than a year for a vote.
Bush's nominations promise to rekindle the battles waged in the Senate over many of his judicial nominees. They will also provide a preview of the all-out fight expected when Bush makes an appointment to the Supreme Court.
During Bush's first term, Democrats would did not allow a vote on 10 of the 52 appointments he made to fill vacancies on federal appeals courts. The overwhelming majority of Bush's 229 judicial nominees, however, were confirmed by the Senate. After the Republicans' Election Day gains, conservative groups have been increasing pressure on Senate Republicans to force votes on Bush judicial nominees. Senate Republicans are considering whether to employ a rare and highly controversial parliamentary maneuver -- dubbed the "nuclear option" -- to declare filibusters against judicial nominations unconstitutional.
With this change, nominees could be confirmed by a simple majority of 51 of the 100 senators. Now, it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster and bring the vote to the Senate floor. While Republicans have not yet decided whether to move ahead with this strategy, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) has made it clear he intends to end judicial filibusters "one way or another," as he put it in a recent speech. Democrats have warned that unilateral action to outlaw judicial filibusters would be an act of legislative war that could jeopardize Bush's ambitious agenda in the new Congress.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was disappointed that the White House moved so quickly to announce plans to resubmit the nominations.
"I would have preferred there would have been an interlude before they were resubmitted to provide an opportunity to improve the climate on the Judiciary Committee," Specter said in a telephone interview, referring to the bitter partisan fights on the panel over appeals court nominations during the last Congress. Specter added that he is consulting with senators of both parties in hopes of working out a bipartisan agreement for handling judicial nominations.
Democrats face serious considerations in deciding how to react to Bush's planned nominations. Democratic senators from states Bush carried in the election could be reluctant to support maneuvers that would prevent a vote on a nomination for fear of being portrayed as obstructionist -- a tactic the GOP used successfully in this year's elections.
"Red-state Democrats are going to have to have to think long and hard whether it's good politics for them to continue to filibuster judges," said Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice, a group that supports conservative judicial nominees.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), a Judiciary Committee member, praised Bush's decision and said, "I think the American people sent a strong message on Nov. 2 against the obstructionist tactics that, unfortunately, we saw all too often in the past four years."
Liberal activist groups signaled that they will be pushing Democratic senators to do whatever it takes to block the nominations. "The president's intention to renominate these highly controversial candidates ensures that the confirmation process will remain divisive," said Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice.
The other appeals court candidates Bush said he will put forward are: U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle, for the 4th Circuit; Interior Department Solicitor William Gerry Myers III, for the 9th Circuit; and Thomas B. Griffith, Brigham Young University's general counsel, for the D.C. Circuit. Bush selected four candidates for the 6th Circuit: Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Richard A. Griffin, U.S. District Judge David W. McKeague, Wayne County Circuit Judge Susan Bieke Neilson and Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Henry W. Saad.
Virginia conservative Claude A. Allen was not renominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond at his request. His nomination was controversial because the seat has traditionally gone to a Marylander.
In addition to the 12 appeals court candidates, Bush announced plans to renominate eight people to seats on federal district courts.