Kavanaugh Confirmed U.S. Appellate Judge

The Associated Press
Friday, May 26, 2006; 4:15 PM

WASHINGTON -- White House aide Brett Kavanaugh won Senate confirmation as an appellate judge Friday after a three-year wait, a new victory for President Bush in a drive to place a more conservative stamp on the nation's courts.

Bush said Kavanaugh would be "a brilliant, thoughtful and fair-minded judge."

Confirmed on a 57-36 vote, Kavanaugh had been warmly praised by Republicans but widely opposed by Democrats who had briefly threatened to filibuster his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Democratic critics said the 41-year-old White House staff secretary's record spoke of loyalty to Bush but was thin on courtroom experience.

"Mr. Kavanaugh is a political operative," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., a member of the Judiciary Committee. "I can say with confidence that Mr. Kavanaugh would be the youngest, least experienced and most partisan appointee to the court in decades."

The confirmation represented a victory for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a possible 2008 presidential candidate, whose efforts to fill more federal court seats with Bush's nominees have been bedeviled by Democratic objections. Five weeks ago he informed the Senate that he expected Kavanaugh to be confirmed by Memorial Day.

"I am committed to confirming additional judicial nominees to the bench who will practice judicial restraint and interpret the law strictly and impartially," Frist, R-Tenn., said Friday.

After the vote, Frist told reporters he hadn't yet decided on plans for the next judicial nomination he has vowed to bring up for a vote _ Terrence W. Boyle, Bush's pick for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. That nomination is troubled by conflict of interest charges, and Democrats have said they definitely would filibuster it.

The Kavanaugh vote marked the latest in a string of confirmations for conservative appellate court nominees in the year since a centrist group of senators agreed on terms designed to prevent a meltdown over Bush's conservative picks.

Kavanaugh was not mentioned by name in an agreement announced by the so-called Gang of 14, but his nomination was pending at the time and he figured in the discussions. More recently, the seven Democrats who were members of the group had intervened in his case, calling for a second Judiciary Committee hearing into his appointment. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the panel, agreed, defusing any threat of a filibuster designed to block a vote.

Still, Democrats highlighted the American Bar Association's recent downgrading of its rating of Kavanaugh from "highly qualified" to "qualified."

"It's clear that he is a political pick being pushed for political reasons," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat. "This is not a court that needs another rubber stamp for this president's exertion of executive power."

The White House and Specter said Kavanaugh's Ivy League education, a Supreme Court clerkship and other work have prepared him well to become a federal judge. Specter's committee approved the nomination along party lines.

"It is hardly a surprise that Brett Kavanaugh would be close to the president because the president selects people in whom he has confidence," Specter said.

The filibuster threat softened after Specter granted Democrats' request for a new hearing at which Kavanaugh testified. The nominee told Democrats he played no role in the White House formulation of policies on detainees, domestic wiretapping or any relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Kavanaugh was an assistant to independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the impeachment probe of President Clinton, and he worked on behalf of the Bush campaign during the election recount in 2000.

© 2006 The Associated Press