Brown Nomination Advances, but Battle In Senate Over Filibuster Rules Looms
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The nomination of California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia advanced on a 10-8 party line Judiciary Committee vote to the full Senate yesterday, where it appears certain to be at the center of a battle over filibuster rules.
Republicans also, by an identical vote, sent the nomination of Texas judge Priscilla Owen to serve on the Fifth Circuit court to the full Senate for confirmation. GOP senators now have two of the candidates they want to use to challenge the Democrats’ threat to filibuster President George Bush’s nominations to the federal appellate court.
“We have now the vehicle,” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said. “We have two qualified women. They have met every test.”
Democrats blocked the two nominees from lifetime seats on the nation’s second highest courts during Bush’s first term, but they were renominated by the president after he won a second term in November.
Democrats — who want to block the two women again — agree that a confrontation with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., over whether to ban judicial filibusters is imminent following the strictly partisan votes in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Republicans are “doing this as a prelude to setting up the greatest constitutional crisis that the Senate has faced,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said.
Frist has threatened to ban judicial filibusters to stop Democrats from blocking nominees, which Republicans say is against Senate tradition. It requires 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster, but only 51 votes to ultimately ban the procedure.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has vowed to slow or halt Senate action on much routine business if the GOP bans judicial filibusters and forces up-or-down votes in which nominees could be confirmed by a bare majority.
Frist has been working to secure the 50 votes he needs from his 55-member Republican caucus to make the rules change. At least a half-dozen Republicans have not yet committed to his plan.
GOP Conference chairman Rick Santorum, R-Pa., denied reports that he has urged Frist to go slow on the rules change and he said he is still behind getting all of Bush’s judicial nominees confirmed. “As far as the timing, that’s up to the majority leader,” he said.
Another of Bush’s 10 blocked nominees, Idaho lawyer William Myers, already has been approved by the Judiciary Committee. But conservatives would rather see the final showdown come over Brown, Owen or U.S. Appeals Judge William Pryor, who was given a temporary appointment by Bush after he was blocked by Democrats.
The Judiciary Committee is expected to advance Pryor’s nomination next week.
Conservatives during the last Congress accused Democrats of being anti-minority for blocking Brown, who is black; anti-women for blocking Owen; and anti-Catholic for blocking Pryor.
Activists plan a similar tactic this year, with Frist planning to deliver a taped message to Christian conservatives Sunday saying Democrats are “against people of faith” for blocking Bush’s nominees.
Democrats have condemned those attacks, saying they will block the nominees because they are too conservative, calling them judicial activists who should be stopped before they get lifetime appointments.
“The nomination of Janice Rogers Brown is a prime example of a nominee who sees the federal bench as a platform to advance her own extremist views,” Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass, said.
Owen “is an example of a judge who is very eager to make law from the bench,” Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, declared.
Republicans defended Owen and Brown, saying they were fine judges and that Democrats broke with Senate tradition by threatening to filibuster their nominations.
Owen “deserves to be confirmed and she deserves the professional courtesy of an up-or-down vote,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who served with Owen on the Texas Supreme Court, said.
GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Brown’s home state, said Brown was the type of judge the country needs, who has “a reverence for our Constitution, who will approach these issues with independence, an open mind, a lot of common sense, a willingness to work hard and an ability to communicate clearly and effectively.”
A spokesperson for the 55-year-old Brown said yesterday the justice would have no comment on the Judiciary Committee action.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, called Brown an “unusual nominee” and said she was voting against advancing the nomination because she had “never seen a nominee who in their public utterances and while sitting on a court expresses such extreme views ñ views that are starkly out of mainstream American thought.”
Brown’s record on the state high court, Feinstein said, showed the justice was “unable to put her personal ideology aside” in deciding cases before that court.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company