Following through on a promise he has made repeatedly since his victory in November, President Bush yesterday renominated 12 candidates for federal appeals court seats whose confirmations were blocked by Senate Democrats during his first term.
The renomination of the judicial candidates promises to once again ignite an intense partisan battle with Senate Democrats. They have vowed to thwart Bush's nominees, whom they consider too conservative.
President Bush, with Alberto R. Gonzales for his swearing-in as attorney general, has said judicial nominees deserve an up-or-down vote in the Senate. He renominated 12 candidates for federal appeals courts whom Democrats blocked during his first term.
(Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
The battle over the makeup of the federal bench is also a key issue for conservative evangelicals and others at the core of the president's political base who see judges as crucial to their efforts to outlaw abortion, allow for a broader religious presence in daily life and limit the influence of the federal government.
Bush has said that his nominees are well qualified and deserve a vote in the Senate. "Every judicial nominee deserves a prompt hearing and an up-or-down vote on the floor of the United States Senate," he said yesterday.
Word of the nominations, which the White House had signaled in a December statement, was met with dismay from Senate Democrats and the activist groups that support them. Democrats vowed to continue opposing the candidates they had previously blocked.
"We should not divert attention from other pressing issues facing this nation to re-debate the merits of nominees already found too extreme by this chamber," said Sen. Harry M. Reid (Nev.), the Senate minority leader.
"To replay this narrow and completed debate demonstrates the Bush administration's failure to craft a positive agenda for the American people," added Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, a liberal activist group.
Among the most controversial nominees are Terrence W. Boyle, a federal district judge in North Carolina and nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, whom Democrats have criticized for his stances in civil rights cases; Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Richman Owen, a nominee for the 5th Circuit, whose jurisprudence in abortion, civil rights and environmental cases has been criticized; California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, nominated to a seat on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, who Democrats say has referred to the New Deal as a "socialist revolution"; and William J. Haynes II, who served as Pentagon general counsel when controversial detainee policies were set that allowed enemy combatants to be held indefinitely without charges and access to counsel. He was again nominated for the 4th Circuit.
During Bush's first term, Democrats did not allow a vote on 10 of the 52 appeals court nominations that reached the Senate floor. As a result, conservative groups have been putting increasing pressure on Senate Republicans to force votes on Bush's judicial nominees.
Last year, Republicans held 51 seats and never mustered more than 55 votes in their attempts to end filibusters of the 10 disputed judges whose nominations reached the floor. Now they hold 55 seats, five short of the number needed to halt a filibuster. If they are unable to attract enough Democratic support to overcome a filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has warned, he may seek a rule change that would bar filibusters of judicial nominees. Democrats have vowed to bring the Senate to a standstill if he does so.
GOP sources said Judiciary Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has told colleagues he would like to select one of the least controversial nominees and try to win enough Democratic support to defeat a filibuster, then push for other victories. Specter's office said yesterday that the most likely choice would be William G. Myers III, tapped for a seat on the 9th Circuit. Two Senate Democrats -- Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) -- voted against the filibuster of Myers last July, and Republicans hope to pick up the support of freshman Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.).
The nominations sent to the Senate yesterday also included the renomination of eight candidates for federal district courts as well as the nomination of four candidates to the D.C. Superior Court bench.
Also yesterday, during a swearing-in ceremony for new Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush reiterated his support for the USA Patriot Act, calling on Congress to renew the sweeping anti-terror law enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Parts of the law expire at the end of the year.
Some members of Congress have called for revoking provisions that they say infringe on civil liberties.