Republicans on Monday marked the fourth anniversary of President Bush’s nomination of Priscilla Owen to a federal appeals court by calling on the Senate to finally vote on the Texas Supreme Court justice and six other blocked judicial nominees.
Democrats promptly reaffirmed their opposition, but offered to allow a vote without the threat of a procedural roadblock known as a filibuster against a far less controversial appeals court nominee, Thomas Griffith, a Utah lawyer.
“We want to move forward and demonstrate our goodwill,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. “Let’s try cooperation, instead of confrontation.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, replied: “This is a first step but there are seven other highly qualified nominees who have been filibustered who deserve an up or down vote as well.”
Frist wants votes on all judicial nominees, not just those picked by Democrats as part of a possible compromise.
Both sides appear headed toward a showdown, possibly within weeks, over a threat by Republicans to change the Senate’s rules to ban judicial filibusters.
Democrats vow to retaliate by invoking other procedural hurdles that could tie the Senate into knots.
“Nominees who have the support of a majority of the Senate should be confirmed,” Bush said in statement issued while he was traveling abroad. “Unfortunately, a minority of senators is blocking the will of the Senate.”
Owen was among 10 circuit-court nominees blocked during Bush’s first term by Democrats, who cast them as “right-wing extremists.”
Bush renominated seven of them after winning reelection in November, hailing them as well qualified nominees who deserve a vote by the full Senate.
Griffith was not filibustered, but failed to win confirmation in the last Congress. So Bush renominated him as well. The Senate Judiciary Committee recently sent Griffith’s nomination to the full Senate with bipartisan support.
Frist and Reid had their exchange as the Senate returned from a week-long recess. Both have proposed compromises rejected by the other, but they have promised to keep seeking a solution.
Frist has not said when there may be a vote to ban judicial filibusters, but other Republicans have said they expect to have the 51 votes needed in the 100-member Senate to eliminate them.
Democrats have argued that the vote remains too close to call, noting that about a half dozen of the Senate’s 55 Republicans remain uncommitted, at least publicly.
Members on both sides of the aisle have voiced concerns about banning the filibuster, with “the nuclear option,” so named because of the damage it would do to Senate bipartisanship.