By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
The Bush administration officially withdrew four of its most controversial nominations to the federal appellate bench yesterday, bowing to the political reality of a Senate Judiciary Committee under the control of Democrats who show no inclination to confirm them.
Signaling at the same time that President Bush is committed to placing more conservatives on the bench, the White House renominated 32 other federal judicial candidates that the previous Senate did not confirm. Bush also nominated a previous candidate for a federal district court to fill one of the four appellate positions.
Those withdrawn yesterday included Defense Department general counsel William J. Haynes II, nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which covers Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolinas; U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle, also nominated for the 4th Circuit; and former Interior Department solicitor William G. Myers III, nominated for the 9th Circuit, which covers seven Western states, plus Alaska and Hawaii.
The fourth nominee withdrawn, Mississippi lawyer Michael B. Wallace, had announced in December that he was no longer seeking to become a 5th Circuit appellate judge, with jurisdiction over Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. White House officials said Leslie H. Southwick, a former Mississippi state appeals judge and chairman of the state's Bush-Quayle steering committee in 1988, will be nominated to fill the slot Wallace had sought.
The withdrawals provoked rare praise from liberal groups People for the American Way and Alliance for Justice, which had lobbied against many of the administration's judicial nominees. They said that they hope the moves herald a shift in Bush's approach to such appointments.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), likewise, praised Bush for making "the right decision in not resubmitting these controversial and problematic nominees who failed to win confirmation from a Republican-controlled Senate." He said the withdrawals are "a welcome beginning" in emphasizing "qualifications and bipartisan consensus."
White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said in a statement that "the President remains focused on appointing highly qualified nominees who clearly understand that the role of a judge is to interpret the law, not to legislate from the bench. All of today's nominees are highly accomplished . . . and the President is encouraging the Senate to provide them with fair consideration as soon as possible."
The decision was, nonetheless, an abrupt reversal for the White House, which last tried to gain Senate confirmation for the four on Nov. 16, nine days after the election of a Democratic majority with a one-member margin.
Opposition to Haynes had centered on his role in supporting the aggressive interrogations of U.S. military detainees after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Myers, a former mining and grazing industry official nominated to a court with jurisdiction over half of the nation's public lands, had aroused the opposition of environmentalists by denouncing many laws as "regulatory excesses" and demanding industry access to more protected land.
Civil rights groups had accused Boyle, a protege of former senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), and Wallace, a former counsel to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), of hostility to minority rights. The 4th Circuit's jurisdiction has the nation's highest percentage of black citizens. Political disputes over its appellate membership have kept a vacancy there open for 12 years.