Shalom Stone, a Republican lawyer from New Jersey, is the White House choice to fill Justice Samuel Alito Jr.'s seat on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Stone, 44, is a partner at Walder Hayden & Brogan in Roseland, where he has practiced white-collar criminal defense, complex commercial litigation and real estate law for 16 years.
The nomination was made without input from the state's two Democratic senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, ostensibly because Stone is a political conservative who is affiliated with The Federalist Society, a group that favors strict constitutional construction.
The senators were unhappy about being shut out of the selection process and about President Bush abandoning the presumptive nominee, District of New Jersey Judge Noel Hillman, whom both senators had approved for promotion.
"The sudden manner in which the previous consensus nominee for this slot was withdrawn and the uncooperative unilateral manner in which this [new] nomination was made certainly raises serious concerns," says Menendez spokesman Afshin Mohamadi.
Bush may have had concerns about the confirmation process for Hillman, who was the lead prosecutor in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and headed the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section. The hearings could have become a forum for Democratic inquisition into why some corruption matters were not investigated vigorously.
Stone, by comparison, is a hands-on litigator with little political baggage. A 1987 graduate of New York University School of Law, he was an associate at Newark, N.J.'s Sills Cummis Epstein and Gross from 1987 until 1991, when he joined his present firm. He is a former chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association's Committee on Federal Practice and Procedure and co-authored "The Scope of Discovery in the Federal Courts," a litigation report published in 1998 by the American Bar Association's Section of Litigation. He served on the Lawyers' Advisory Committee for the U.S. District Court in New Jersey in 2003 and 2004.
The challenge for the White House is to get an expedited hearing for Stone before the politics of the presidential election take hold. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has said no circuit court slots will be filled in 2008, so unless the background checks and hearings take place by the end of this year, the nomination may be stuck.
By custom, a nomination is unlikely to reach the hearing process without getting a green light from the nominee's home state senators. "It behooves the administration to work cooperatively with the senators," says Mohamadi.
Stone's law partner Justin Walder insists he is not an ideologue, despite his Federalist Society membership. "Intellectually, he's as bright as they come and he has no predetermined ideas about things," Walder says."
Another Stone partner, Joseph Hayden, is well-connected in Democratic circles and could help enlist support, Democratic sources say.
Stone did not return a reporter's call Wednesday.