The Senate Democratic whip said yesterday he may seek to hold up all judicial nominees, including those to the Supreme Court, if Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) refuses to allow a second vote on appeals court nominee Daniel A. Manion of Indiana.
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said he will ask all Senate Democrats at a caucus meeting today to consider blocking judicial nominations if Dole invokes a rarely used parliamentary procedure that would result in Manion's confirmation without another vote this year.
Cranston said such a tactic could delay Senate confirmation of President Reagan's choice for chief justice, William H. Rehnquist, and his nominee to fill Rehnquist's Supreme Court seat, appeals court Judge Antonin Scalia.
"We are going to give very serious thought to blocking any action on any judgeship until we are allowed to vote on Manion," Cranston told reporters. He said he hoped the Senate's 47 Democrats would "unite" behind such a strategy.
Dole said on the Senate floor that he may seek to have Manion confirmed for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago by refusing to bring up the nomination for the rest of the year, which would make final the Senate's tentative vote last month to confirm him. Dole said this parliamentary move is "still an option," but that he is continuing to count votes and may yet decide to bring up the nomination on 24 hours' notice.
The implied threats amount to an escalation of the bitter Senate fight over Manion, a conservative South Bend lawyer whose nomination has symbolized the debate over the quality of Reagan's selections for the federal bench. Critics say Manion has little federal court experience and that his views are too extreme, while supporters say he is well-qualified and that the opposition is rooted in liberal ideology.
Democrats thought they had the votes to defeat Manion, but Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) abandoned his plan to vote against the nominee moments before the June 26 vote, after the Reagan administration pledged to nominate his candidate for a vacant judgeship in Washington state.
The Senate then voted 48 to 46 to confirm Manion after Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) voted with Manion's supporters so he would have standing under Senate rules to move for reconsideration of the vote. Both sides had expected that question to be before the Senate when it returned from its July 4 recess.
Byrd said yesterday that it is "exceedingly important" that the Senate render a final verdict on Manion and that he hopes the issue will not become entangled with other judicial nominations.
Dole, a potential 1988 Republican presidential candidate, yesterday defended his handling of the vote. He also said in an interview that the Democrats' delaying strategy "might backfire" in terms of public opinion. "People would wonder why they're holding up Supreme Court nominations," he said.
Cranston said the vote on Manion was "incredibly close" and that Dole's reluctance to bring up the nomination "indicates weakness" on the part of Manion's supporters. Because the Senate operates largely on consensus, a single senator can easily tie up the institution through the use of quorum calls and other delaying tactics.
Each side's strategy on Manion has shifted several times. Republicans strongly criticized a planned filibuster against the nomination last month, then were shocked when the Democrats pressed for a vote. Now the Democrats are charging Manion's supporters with averting a floor showdown.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) has scheduled hearings on Rehnquist's nomination for next week and on Scalia the following week, seeking Senate confirmation for both men by mid-August.