Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Senators, Bush Administration Reach Deal on Judges; Schiavelli Confirmation Likely by Next Month
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Breaking a months-long impasse, the White House and Senate Democrats struck a deal yesterday allowing confirmation of dozens of President Bush’s judicial nominations in exchange for a White House promise not to bypass the Senate again this year.
Under the agreement, Democrats will allow votes on 25 non-controversial appointments to the district and appeals courts. In exchange, Bush agreed not to invoke his constitutional power to make recess appointments while Congress is away, as he has done twice in recent months with judicial nominees.
One of the 25 was confirmed yesterday.
The remaining 24, who will likely be confirmed over the next six weeks, include two from California, a spokesman for Sen. Dianne Feinstein said. They are Los Angeles attorney and former Superior Court Judge George Schiavelli, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, and Magistrate Judge Roger T. Benitez, nominated to become a district judge in the Southern District of California.
Schiavelli told the MetNews he was “very pleased, not only for me and the other nominees, but for the federal judiciary.” The partner in the national law firm of Reed Smith added that he was “very gratified” to be included in a bipartisan agreement, which he characterized as “recognition that I will be fair and impartial if I am ultimately confirmed.”
The agreement does not cover several nominees whose confirmations have been blocked by Democratic filibusters, including two Californians—Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl for the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown for the D.C. Circuit.
The accord on the 25 was reached in a meeting among top Senate Democrats and Republicans as well as Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff.
Starting in March, Democrats had halted all judicial nominees until they received a promise from Bush that he wouldn’t use his recess appointment power. The Senate starts its Memorial Day recess on Monday.
“Mr. Card committed that there would be no further circuit and district judicial recess appointments during the remainder of the president’s term,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said.
Now that Democrats have been “given that assurance, we’re now prepared to work with our Republican colleagues,” said Minority leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in confirming the deal.
The Senate immediately confirmed one of the nominees—Marcia Cooke, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s former chief inspector general, to be a federal trial judge in Florida. After the 25th judge is confirmed, the Senate will have put 198 of Bush’s nominees on the federal trial and appeals courts, senators said.
The Senate confirmations of the 20 U.S. District Court judges and the five U.S. Appeals Court judges will come before the end of June, Daschle said. Other judicial nominees will be considered case-by-case, he said.
Republicans and Democrats both claimed victory.
“I think it shows that even the president knew he was wrong on this,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., referring to the two previous recess appointments. “I think the precedent of having the White House admit they were wrong is very important.”
Replied Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas: “As a practical matter the likelihood of a recess appointment between now and Nov. 2 is very small, so I suggest to you that he’s not really giving up a lot in exchange for an up-or-down vote on 25 judges and it’s, on balance, not a bad deal.”
A reporter’s call to the White House for comment was not immediately returned.
Bush already has used recess appointments to name two Republicans to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Charles Pickering—a former chairman of the Mississippi Republican party and father of GOP Rep. Chip Pickering—and William Pryor, the former GOP attorney general of Alabama.
Democrats were furious at those appointments because they had been successfully blocking Pryor; Pickering; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Miguel Estrada; Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen; Kuhl; and Brown from getting confirmation votes.
Estrada later withdrew from consideration—the president nominated Brigham Young University General Counsel Thomas Griffith for that seat last week—but the others are still waiting.
It takes 60 senators to force a confirmation vote in the Senate, which is split with 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent, Jim Jeffords of Vermont.
Democrats first threatened to hold up Bush’s nominees in March, one month after Bush gave Pryor an almost two-year stint on the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta. The president in January gave Pickering a one-year term on the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.
Democrats called Bush’s appointments “a flagrant abuse of presidential power” but Republicans said that Bush wouldn’t have had to use recess appointments if Democrats hadn’t been blocking his nominees.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company