New York Times
December 23, 2004
WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 - President Bush plans to renominate 20 candidates for federal judgeships who have been unable to win confirmation in the Senate, the White House said today, in a signal that the president is ready for a showdown early next year.
"An effective and efficient judicial system is vital to ensuring justice for all Americans," the White House said. "The president nominated highly qualified individuals to the federal courts during his first term, but the Senate failed to vote on many nominations."
Senate Democrats have maintained for months that they have routinely confirmed nominees who are not right-wing extremists or lukewarm about civil rights - faults that they have ascribed to the nominees that they have managed to block.
The White House, asserting that Senate inaction "delays timely justice for the American people," said Mr. Bush "looks forward to working with the new Senate to ensure a well-functioning and independent judiciary."
Twelve of the 20 are candidates for seats on the federal circuit courts of appeal, while eight are candidates for district court judgeships. The appeals court seats are considered far more important, since the circuit courts are just one level beneath the Supreme Court.
The makeup of the Supreme Court has not changed in more than a decade, and it is widely assumed that in his second term President Bush will be able to nominate at least one and possibly two or more people for the high court.
Republicans picked up several seats in the November elections and will effectively have an advantage of 55 to 45 when the new Senate convenes early in January. (There are 44 Democrats and one independent, James Jeffords of Vermont, who generally sides with the Democrats.)
But the 55 Republican votes will still not be enough to stymie filibusters, if the Democrats resort to that tactic. Sixty votes are needed to shut off a filibuster, meaning to end debate and bring an issue to a full Senate vote. The Democrats have used the filibuster to block some of Mr. Bush's nominees, prompting Republican complaints that minority-party obstructionists are blocking fine jurists and slowing the wheels of justice.
President Bush said shortly after the election that he had earned political capital from his victory, and that he intended to spend it. Today's statement by the White House, while the president himself was at Camp David, Md., made clear he intends to spend some of it trying to strengthen the conservative presence in the federal courts.
The White House said 16 of the 20 the candidates were nominated more than a year ago and have not had a yes-or-no vote in the Senate.
One of the names Mr. Bush will place in nomination again is that of William H. Pryor Jr., the former Alabama attorney general, for a seat on the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta. Last February, Mr. Bush installed Mr. Pryor on that court by using the presidential power to name judges for temporary terms when Congress is in recess. Under that procedure, Mr. Pryor's judgeship would expire next year, unless he wins Senate confirmation.
Democrats have contended that Mr. Pryor's fervent advocacy of greater Christian influence in government and his opposition to legalized abortion make him an unsuitable judge. But Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican majority leader, has called him "a man of integrity committed to the rule of law."
Another candidate whom Mr. Bush will renominate is Judge Priscilla Richman Owen of the Texas Supreme Court, for a seat on the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans. In blocking her thus far, Democrats have said her anti-abortion and pro-business views have colored her decisions. But Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, has called her "a wonderful person, an academic judge" and qualified in every way to be on the federal court.
Still another who will be renominated is Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the California Supreme Court, for a seat on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the tribunal that is often seen as a springboard for the United States Supreme Court.