Friday, December 24, 2004

Bush signals a hard push on choices for courts

The Boy King's Christmas gift to half of the United States is a finger in the eye:

"WASHINGTON President George W. Bush said this week that when the new Congress convenes in January, he would renominate 12 candidates to the federal appeals courts who were denied confirmation in his first term.

His statement, made on Thursday, signals his willingness to begin what is expected to be another bitter fight with Senate Democrats over what they assert are his efforts to shift the courts in a markedly more conservative direction.

'The president nominated highly qualified individuals to the federal courts during his first term, but the Senate failed to vote on many nominations,' the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, said in a statement announcing Bush's intentions to move aggressively on the issue in his second term.

Although the announcement appears at odds with postelection remarks by Bush that he would reach out to opponents, it is in line with what had been a principal campaign theme for him and Vice President Dick Cheney, namely that Bush would battle Democratic opposition to his judicial choices.

The White House statement, which also called for the renomination of eight candidates for the federal district courts, quickly produced expressions of dismay from Senate Democrats, who said Bush was not seeking any compromise with them in hopes of improving relations on the issue of judges.

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who has been a leader in opposing many of Bush's judicial nominees, said: 'In this opening shot, the White House is making it clear that they are not interested in bipartisanship when it comes to nominating judges. This starts to poison the well when everyone on our side was hoping to make a new start.'

But the most notable reaction came from Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, who is expected to become the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

'It has been my hope that we might be able to approach this whole issue with some cooler perspective,' Specter said in an interview. 'I would have preferred to have some time in the 109th Congress to improve the climate to avoid judicial gridlock and future filibusters.'

The eight candidates for the federal district courts were less controversial than the appeals court nominees, but they were also not voted on in the current Congress.

When Bush sends the 20 names to the new Senate next month, however, there will be at least two factors that will be different from the current situation. Democrats blocked 10 of his appeals court nominees by filibuster. But the Republicans have increased their majority in the Senate to 55 from 51, making it more feasible to acquire the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster, which is the threat of extended debate.

Among the candidates whom Bush said on Thursday he would renominate is William Haynes 4th, the Pentagon general counsel, who has been deeply embroiled in controversy over memorandums he wrote or supervised that secretly authorized harsh treatment, even torture, for detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in Iraq. Haynes's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, Virginia, was suspended when the issue erupted and he was asked by the Judiciary Committee to provide material about his role in the issue and failed to do so.

Other candidates Bush said would be renominated who had been blocked by Democrats include Priscilla Owens of Texas, William Pryor Jr. of Alabama and Janice Rogers Brown of California.

Pryor, who was named to the appeals court by Bush during a congressional recess, thereby sidestepping the Senate, is a former Alabama attorney general. He was known during his tenure in Alabama as an outspoken opponent of legalized abortion and an advocate of a greater role for religion in government. Pryor's work as a judge has been largely unnoticed, but he did provide a critical vote upholding a Florida law against adoption by gay couples.

Brown, who sits on the California Supreme Court, was opposed for her stark opinion upholding the state's referendum against affirmative action and her vivid speeches criticizing the growth of government. Some of her colleagues wrote that she had gone too far and used needlessly scathing language to extend the reach of the anti-affirmative-action proposition.

William Myers 3rd, nominated for the Ninth Circuit, was opposed because his critics said he could not be fair on environmental cases, citing his long career as a lobbyist for the ranching and mining industries."

You're going to hear the terms "unify," "unity," "bipartisanship," "come together," and the like ad nauseum from Georgie and his minions in the coming months. Don't ever forget that this is precisely what he means when he talks about "working together."


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