The Senate yesterday confirmed one of its former lawyers, Thomas B. Griffith, to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals, the sixth person elevated in the last month.
With a 73 to 24 vote, Griffith becomes the newest judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, taking a seat that the Bush administration originally wanted for filibustered Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada.
Estrada dropped out in September 2003 after being blocked by Democrats. President Bush replaced him in May 2004 with Griffith, who was the chamber's general counsel during President Clinton's impeachment trial before joining Brigham Young University as general counsel in 2000.
Former Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) called Griffith "an excellent nominee for this extremely important federal court."
"As Senate legal counsel, he impressed many in this body for being hardworking, fair-minded and honest," Hatch said. "I am aware of no one who believes he carried out his responsibility as Senate legal counsel in a partisan manner."
Democrats have opposed Griffith, although Senate Democratic leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) offered to bring his nomination up for a vote during the chamber's deadlock over whether to ban the judicial filibuster.
Republicans refused and pushed ahead for a vote on Bush's blocked nominees. But that showdown was averted after seven Democrats and seven Republicans signed a pact pledging not to filibuster judicial nominees except in extraordinary circumstances. At the same time, they agreed to oppose attempts by GOP leaders to change filibuster procedures.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the top Judiciary Committee Democrat, said Griffith's refusal to get a Utah law license should have disqualified him from the court.
Griffith said he did not have a Utah law license because he never thought he needed it for his job as lawyer for Brigham Young University. He also took the blame for losing his D.C. law license by not paying bar association dues. He got the license back by paying what he owed.
"Mr. Griffith has forgone at least 10 opportunities to take the bar in Utah, and has continued to refuse to do so during the pendency of his nomination. In this regard, he appears to think he is above the law," Leahy said. "That is not the kind of person who should be entrusted with a lifetime appointment to a federal court and, least of all, to such an important court as the D.C. Circuit, which is entrusted with protecting the rights of all Americans."