Correction to This Article
The print edition of this article incorrectly said that the Senate confirmed 66 of President George H.W. Bush's judicial nominees in 1988. It confirmed 64, and that occurred in 1992. This version has been corrected.
Judicial Vacancies Leave GOP With Empty Feeling

By Al Kamen
Friday, July 6, 2007

Some Republicans are upset that the White House has nominated only 25 people to fill the 47 vacancies now on the federal judiciary. Not to worry. If history is any guide, President Bush can nominate as many people as he wants, but most of them will not don the black robes anytime soon.

As we head into the administration's final 18 months, it appears that, with the Democrats running the Senate, Bush, who has put 278 district and appeals court judges on the bench, has virtually no chance of besting Bill Clinton's370 appointments to those courts -- about 43 percent of the total 853 judges.

Only an average of 51.5 judges have been confirmed in the last year of recent presidencies -- Jimmy Carter through Clinton -- including an average of nine confirmed for the more important federal appellate courts.

If that average holds, Bush will fall well short of Clinton's total, and he may be hard-pressed to get the 11 he needs to match Clinton's 65 appeals court appointments. (By the way, Clinton reached his total with the Senate in GOP hands for six of his eight years.)

When the Senate left town in December 2000, there were 67 judicial vacancies. Clinton had nominated 41 people for those jobs, but they were stalled. The Senate confirmed only 62 judges, including for the appellate courts, during the final 15 months of Clinton's presidency.

It's hard to predict with certainty what the Democrats will do in the waning Bush months. For example, the Democratic- controlled Senate in 1992, the last year of Bush I's term, confirmed a generous 64 of his nominees.

That was essentially because then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) seemed to have this notion that the judiciary should be above crass political calculations. He was confirming Bush I's nominees almost on the eve of the presidential election.

NOTE: Contrary to a 2000 Loop column about this matter, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) assured us, shortly after the column, that he sided with Biden's policy. (Some corrections take a while.)

Since then, the bitter fights over judgeships have hardened battle lines. And Leahy, now chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has sharply criticized the administration's nominees and the increased politicization of the process.

Leahy was unavailable for a chat this week, but a committee aide kept citing the Thurmond Rule, which she described as a "decades-old, bipartisan agreement that only consensus nominees" get a floor vote after the middle of next year.

But, she added, the late senator Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) and Senate GOP leaders refined the rule to block "judicial appointments in the last year of a presidency unless (they are) consensus nominees." That means Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Leahy and Arlen Specter (Pa.), the committee's ranking Republican, all have to approve the nomination.

Hmmm. Sounds as though conservatives should stop giving Bush a hard time about these nominations. He's already close to his likely maximum.

Beg Your Pardon?

ANNOUNCEMENT: President Bush's decision to commute the two-year prison sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former aide to Vice President Cheney-- and almost surely pardon him later -- means that we will have not one but two sets of winners in the Loop's Pardon Scooter Contest.

First, we'll select the 10 Loop Fans who came closest to guessing that the pardon would be July 2, 2007. (They will be announced shortly.) Then we'll hold the remaining entries to select 10 more winners of those In the Loop T-shirts when Bush actually pardons Libby, which sounds like it will be toward the end of his presidency.

Heading for the Exit

What's up at NAM? Every time you turn around, somebody is departing from the National Association of Manufacturers, reports my colleague Jeffrey H. Birnbaum.

The most recent: Douglas R. Kurkul, vice president of member communications and marketing services, who is leaving to run the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce in Nevada. Also in recent weeks, Lawrence A. Fineran, NAM's vice president for regulatory and competitive policy, and Patrick J. Cleary, senior vice president of communications, have left, bringing to roughly 60 the number of people who have gone elsewhere since former Michigan governor John M. Engler (R) became NAM's president in 2004.

The biggest departure was NAM executive vice president Michael E. Baroody , who recently withdrew as President Bush's nominee to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission. As a result, NAM's lobbying, sales and communications shops have been extensively overhauled, former insiders say. In addition, IBM is no longer a NAM member, they say. So, what does it all mean?

"We're growing. We're strengthening," said NAM spokesman J.P. Fielder. "Engler is a visionary."

Hard to see from here. . . .

Some Time Ago

President Bush, in his Fourth of July speech to National Guard members and their families in Martinsburg, W.Va., linked the war in Iraq to the battles faced by the Continental Army.

"Our first Independence Day celebration took place in a midst of a war -- a bloody and difficult struggle that would not end for six more years before America finally secured her freedom," Bush said, according to the White House transcript. "More than two decades later, it is hard to imagine the Revolutionary War coming out any other way -- but at the time, America's victory was far from certain."

Can't fault that timing. It's been "more than two decades" since a lot of things -- the Big Bang, the birth of Christ, the fall of Rome. . . .

And who can forget when the Queen of England visited this spring and Bush thanked her for being here in 1776?

Legion Post Iraq

This just in: "FIRST AMERICAN LEGION POST TO OPEN IN IRAQ: Commander Richard Billig, Department of State, Post 68, announced that Thomas R. Huff, Senior Vice Commander of Post 68, has founded and started recruiting veterans for the first American Legion Post to be located in Erbil, Kurdistan, in Northern Iraq. Application information is available by contacting Senior Vice Commander Huff at: (571) 438-8005. E-mail: Veterans@PathsofPatriots.org."

The announcement goes on to say: "It is expected that most active and retired military, especially American troops who have served, are serving and who are scheduled to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan will join and support the mission of Post 68A."

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