Judges, and Justice, Delayed

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

IT IS TIME to stop playing games with judicial nominees. As senators cross swords and point fingers, seats remain empty, sitting judges get swamped, and cases drag on. Those who pay the highest price are the plaintiffs, defendants, crime victims and businesses relying on the courts to resolve disputes and dispense justice.

President Bush deserves blame for not naming nominees sooner and for ignoring the advice of home-state senators. But that does not relieve senators of their duty to evaluate those who have been nominated. The Senate last week confirmed one Court of Appeals nominee and four U.S. District Court nominees; that should be only the beginning. In the past two years, the Senate has confirmed seven nominees to the Court of Appeals; 16 such nominees were confirmed during President Bill Clinton's final two years in office. It appears unlikely that Democratic senators will match that number, but they should at least give every current nominee an up-or-down vote and expeditiously process the nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, where five of the court's 15 seats are vacant. Many in the current batch of national nominees no doubt warrant confirmation; we single out two particularly worthy ones.

Peter D. Keisler was nominated in 2006 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; his confirmation hearing was in August of that year. It is a travesty that he has yet to get a vote from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Mr. Keisler, who was chief of the Justice Department's Civil Division before joining a private law firm, earns plaudits from the right and left for his stellar intellect and his judicial demeanor. Democrats have held up Mr. Keisler's nomination over a squabble about whether the D.C. Circuit needs 12 full-time judges. That dispute is over: Congress eliminated the 12th seat this year. Mr. Keisler should be confirmed forthwith.

Rod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney in Maryland, is unquestionably well qualified. He, too, has earned admirers from both sides of the aisle, including Jo Ann Harris, who was Mr. Rosenstein's boss when she was a top official in the Clinton Justice Department. Mr. Rosenstein's confirmation hearing for a seat on the 4th Circuit is being blocked by Maryland's two Democratic senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin. Among other things, they argue that Mr. Rosenstein lacks "roots" in Maryland. That's preposterous: Mr. Rosenstein has worked in the Washington area for about 18 years and has been a resident of Bethesda for 10. More important, he is an excellent and principled lawyer who has all the makings of an excellent and principled judge.

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