RICHARD PAEZ and Marsha Berzon have been waiting a very long time for the Senate to consider their nominations to serve on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott recently agreed to hold votes for a few other nominees, one of whom was actually rejected yesterday on a party-line vote. But consideration of Judge Paez (who has been waiting since January 1996) or Ms. Berzon (since January 1998) has remained elusive.
In an effort to determine who was responsible for the delay, we asked each of the 55 Republican or independent Senate offices whether they had holds on either nominee. Of these, 45 offices confirmed that they were not holding up Ms. Berzon or Judge Paez. A few did not respond. And a few others -- most conspicuously that of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) -- refused to answer the question. Significantly, the Republican senators from the states that actually make up the 9th Circuit all deny having holds on these nominees. In other words, though some representatives of the people who are actually subject to the 9th Circuit's rulings have concerns about Judge Paez and Ms. Berzon, none has an objection to holding a vote.
The only Senate office willing to admit to having holds on the two is that of Sen. Bob Smith, the former Republican from New Hampshire. Mr. Smith's spokeswoman says he has slapped a hold on them because their answers to questions on abortion, the death penalty and guns do not meet with the senator's approval and that he believes there should be a litmus test for federal judges on abortion.
That may be a reason for Mr. Smith to vote against them, as he has voted against other Clinton judicial nominations. But it is the height of unfairness for him or any other senator to deny votes to these indisputably qualified nominees because of differences of philosophy. It is, after all, the president's authority to appoint judges. This authority, though subject to the advice and consent of the Senate as a body, should not be subject to a veto from 100 individual senators -- particularly not senators whose constituents live thousands of miles from the 9th Circuit. Nor should the majority leader be permitting an interpretation of Senate rules that effectively rewrites the Constitution's provisions for judicial appointments.
The Senate yesterday voted to reject nominee Ronnie White for a district court vacancy in Missouri. The decision was, in our judgment, a bad one, but it reflects the fact that the Senate can, when the votes are there, turn down a nominee. If the votes to reject either Judge Paez or Ms. Berzon are there, they can be turned back too. But no one senator should alone have that power.