The U.S. Senate confirmed three more of President Bush’s long-stalled judicial nominees on Thursday, raising to five the number approved since a group of moderates signed a bipartisan truce two weeks ago.
While the truce helped clear the way for these conservative appeals court candidates, one of whom had waited for more than four years, it was largely designed to prepare for Bush’s first nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could come this year.
“We’ve demonstrated in a bipartisan way that we can treat these nominees with respect,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican. “It’s our responsibility to give them a vote; they’re getting a vote.”
Frist added that he does not expect other judicial candidates to be blocked with procedural hurdles known as filibusters.
But Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Richard Durbin of Illinois said, “We’ve preserved the right to filibuster” appeals court as well as Supreme Court nominees viewed as far outside the mainstream.
Another filibuster, particularly on a Supreme Court nominee, would put the truce to a test, one that could result in Republican leaders again pushing to ban such tactics. Democrats have vowed to retaliate to such a change in Senate rules. A fight over filibustering could bring chamber business to a near halt.
Bush said in a statement, “I applaud the Senate for today giving these fine nominees the up-or-down votes they deserve.”
On a largely party-line vote of 53-45, the Senate approved former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor for a lifetime seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Bush last year put Pryor on the Atlanta-based court with a disputed recess appointment set to expire at the end of this year.
Democrats portrayed Pryor as a right-wing extremist and an outspoken critic of abortion rights, who once belittled members of the high court as “nine octogenarians who happen to sit on the Supreme Court.”
But Republicans hailed Pryor as a top-notch public servant who enjoys broad support in his home state and who has earned a reputation as a “courageous defender” of the law, even those he opposes.
The Senate then confirmed without opposition Richard Griffin and David McKeague to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
The two had been snared in a backlash dating back to when Republicans bottled up nominees to the same court by Democratic President Bill Clinton. “It’s time to move on,” said Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat.
The stalemate over Pryor was broken under last month’s bipartisan compromise. Also confirmed recently to appeals courts under that deal were Priscilla Owen of Texas and Janice Rogers Brown of California.
Signed by seven Republicans and seven Democrats, the accord cleared the way for confirmation votes on the three, Bush’s most contentious nominees.
But it made no commitments on other judicial nominees and preserved the right of Democrats to filibuster judicial candidates in the future under “extraordinary circumstances.”
In addition, the 14 senators urged Bush to consult with Democrats as well as fellow Republicans before making additional judicial nominations.
“To a large degree the durability of this compromise is going to depend on the actions of President Bush,” said Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “It depends on what kind of judges he nominates.”
Pryor, Brown, Owen, McKeague and Griffin were among 10 appeals court nominees blocked by Democrats during Bush’s first term. Bush renominated seven of them after winning re-election. Democrats helped confirm about 200 other judicial nominees, most of them to lower courts.