Senate Approves One Judicial Nominee; Dems Block Another

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:29pm EDT

( - President Bush's judicial nominees had a mixed day before the U.S. Senate Tuesday. Senators confirmed Jeffrey Sutton as a federal circuit court judge, but Democrats vowed to block Priscilla Owen's nomination with a filibuster.

While conservatives lauded Sutton's confirmation, they chastised Democrats for playing politics with Owen, who becomes the second judicial nominee to face a filibuster by the Senate. For her nomination to pass, Republicans must amass 60 votes, a hurdle they are unlikely to overcome.

Since early March, Democrats have opposed Miguel Estrada's appointment to the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Minority Leader Tom Daschle said Democrats would use the same tactics to block Owen's nomination to the 5th Circuit.

"She has chosen to put her own position ahead of the law," Daschle said when asked about the filibuster Tuesday afternoon. "In her interpretation of the law on case after case she has made the decisions that her own views are superior, her own views are ones that have greater weight than the law itself."

Instead of Owen, Daschle said Democrats would be glad to consider the nomination of U.S. District Judge Edward Prado. Bush nominated Prado after Democrats opposed two other nominees for the 5th Circuit: Owen and U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering.

Owen has been the target of liberal attacks for rulings she made as a Texas Supreme Court justice. Liberal groups claim she has carried out a campaign against women's rights, and they cite a ruling she made on parental consent for abortion.

"Senate Democrats must stand up and fight as they have been doing with Miguel Estrada," urged Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "At this time of global turmoil, we don't need extremists in the courts willing to make a Dred Scott decision in the area of women's fundamental rights."

Democrats successfully blocked Owen's nomination last year, but President Bush re-nominated her after Republicans won control of the Senate in the 2002 elections. The Judiciary Committee approved the nomination March 27 on a party-line vote.

The conservative Committee for Justice, a group created to support Bush's judicial nominees, lashed out at Daschle's announcement. The group's chairman, C. Boyden Gray, said Democrats who once called the American Bar Association's ratings the "gold standard" are opposing a nominee who received a unanimous well-qualified rating.

"The same Democrats who have spent three months engaged in a historically unprecedented -- and unconstitutional -- filibuster of Hispanic nominee Miguel Estrada, are now going to obstruct another highly respected lawyer, this time a woman," Gray said. "Evidently, 'diversity' on the federal bench only includes activist liberal nominees."

Meanwhile, after 720 days of delay, Democrats relented on Sutton's nomination. He will take a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, serving Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Many politicians, regardless of party affiliation, consider Sutton to be one of the country's most talented lawyers. He has argued 12 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning nine of them.

It was his argument in one case, Alabama v. Garrett , a challenge under the Americans with Disabilities Act, that particularly irked some liberal groups and advocates for the disabled. Sutton won the case, which limited suits that could be brought by disabled individuals.

Sutton's appointment to the 6th Circuit, which came by a 52-41 vote, received a bittersweet reaction from conservatives.

"Senate Democrats are trying again to re-define the mainstream, as exemplified by Sen. [Chuck] Schumer saying that 'most of America' must agree with a nominee's views on legal issues for him to deserve support," said Tom Jipping, senior fellow in legal studies at Concerned Women for America. "Instead, most of America supports the appointment of judges who will stick to the law and leave the politics to the people."

Several battles over judicial nominees remain, and Daschle vowed to treat each one seriously. But he stopped short of vowing to filibuster all nominees. A day earlier, a dozen liberal groups gathered on Capitol Hill to express their disapproval with Sutton, even though Democrats had already agreed to a vote.

"If you look at the votes, we probably could have sustained a filibuster on Mr. Sutton," Daschle said. "But we want to be selective. We want to be careful. I don't want to abuse the practice of filibusters. When we do decide to filibuster, we want to be very careful with those with whom we have made that decision."

See Earlier Stories:
Liberals Slam Nominee Sutton as Senate Nears Confirmation Vote (April 29, 2003)
GOP Prepares for Filibuster Battle over Another Judicial Nominee (April 25, 2003)

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