Sources say the White House has tentatively signed off on a package of five judicial nominees proposed by Pennsylvania Sens. Arlen Specter and Robert Casey that would fill all of the vacancies on the Eastern District of Pennsylvania bench and one of two openings on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
If the deal goes through, the White House will first withdraw the nomination of Eastern District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter to the 3rd Circuit, replacing her with Eastern District Judge Paul S. Diamond.
Pratter's nomination had been met with significant opposition and was ultimately doomed when Casey refused to sign off on it.
Diamond's expected elevation would create a fourth vacancy on the Eastern District bench in addition to the three vacancies created earlier this year when Judges James T. Giles, John R. Padova and Bruce W. Kauffman took senior status.
Sources said nominees for all four vacancies will be named on the same day that Diamond is nominated to the 3rd Circuit.
According to several sources, the four nominees will be Philadelphia Common Pleas President Judge C. Darnell Jones II; Reed Smith attorney Carolyn P. Short; criminal defense attorney Joel H. Slomsky; and Bucks County Common Pleas Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg.
Lawyers familiar with the nomination process disagreed when asked about the chances that the entire package of nominees will win confirmation in a presidential-election year.
Several lawyers said they believe the package has a good chance of winning Senate approval, noting that the most significant hurdles have already been cleared because both of Pennsylvania's senators have signed off on the deal and have secured the support of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy.
But others said that despite the apparent unanimous support, the political calendar is daunting and any delays in the Senate could doom the entire package.
"If this doesn't get teed up for a vote before Labor Day, it could die on the vine," one lawyer said.
"This is late in the year -- very late -- and I'm not sure they have time to get FBI background checks done and get all of them up for a vote before the fall," another lawyer said.
But another lawyer said he was "guardedly optimistic" that all five nominees will be confirmed because the package is the result of negotiations between Specter and Casey.
"The real sticking point here was the controversy surrounding Pratter -- even if it was undeserved -- and now that that's gone, it's just a matter of getting the hearings scheduled and getting [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid to put it up for a vote," the lawyer said.
Pratter was nominated in November 2007 to fill the 3rd Circuit vacancy that opened in October 2006 when Judge Franklin S. Van Antwerpen took senior status.
At the time, there were no vacancies on the Eastern District, but Short was nominated to replace Pratter contingent on Pratter's confirmation. As a result, when Pratter's nomination became mired in controversy, Short's nomination also appeared to be in jeopardy.
Sources said Specter had been lobbying for Short to get the 3rd Circuit but that the White House rejected Short because of her strong ties to Democrats.
Short is a Republican, but her husband, Joseph Torsella, is a prominent Democrat with strong ties to Gov. Edward G. Rendell. Torsella ran unsuccessfully in the 2004 Democratic primary for the congressional seat now held by Rep. Allyson Schwartz. He now serves as president and CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
When the White House rejected Short for the 3rd Circuit, sources said, Specter agreed to a package deal in which Pratter would get the 3rd Circuit seat and Short would be nominated to replace Pratter.
Ordinarily, the nomination of a replacement for a district judge who is elevated to the appellate court comes after Senate confirmation. But in Short's case, President Bush invoked a rarely used procedure to send her nomination to the Senate to replace Pratter "upon elevation."
Short graduated from the University of Notre Dame and earned her law degree in 1980 from Notre Dame Law School. Before joining Reed Smith in 1989, she worked as a prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, including several years as a homicide prosecutor.
From January 2005 until February 2006, Short served as general counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee while Specter was serving as chairman, and she worked side by side with Specter on the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito.
The new package of nominees was the result of extensive negotiations between Specter and Casey, sources said.
Several sources said Jones was Casey's first pick for the Eastern District but that the deal was cinched only when Specter agreed to replace Pratter with Diamond for the 3rd Circuit seat.
"This whole deal marks the first time that Casey has really flexed his muscle on judicial nominations. He just saw Pratter as an arch conservative and pressed for a more moderate nominee to the 3rd Circuit," one lawyer said.
Lawyers said Diamond is not likely to incur the sort of opposition from interest groups that caused Pratter's nomination to become controversial.
Diamond earned his bachelor's degree at Columbia University in 1974 and his law degree at the University of Pennsylvania in 1977. He then spent five years in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, taking a one-year leave in 1980 to clerk for then-Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Bruce W. Kauffman, now a federal judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Diamond's 20 years in private practice were split between two firms: Dilworth Paxson from 1983 to 1991 and Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel from 1992 until he was appointed to the federal bench in 2004.
At both firms, Diamond focused on litigation and took on leadership positions, chairing the hiring committee at Dilworth Paxson for five years and taking the same post at Obermayer Rebmann for three years.
Diamond has also amassed a considerable political resume, serving as counsel and treasurer to Specter's presidential campaign from 1993 to 1995 and counsel to the successful campaigns for seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court of Justices Ronald Castille and Sandra Schultz Newman.
He also served on transition teams when Patrick Meehan was elected to the district attorney's office in Delaware County and when Castille was elected district attorney in Philadelphia.
While in private practice, Diamond also had a hand in the selection of federal judges and magistrate judges. From 1993 to 2000, he served as a member of the Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, helping screen and interview candidates for nomination to the federal courts in Pennsylvania.
And in 1997 and again in 2000, Diamond was a member of the Magistrate Judge Merit Selection Panel for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, helping to interview candidates who were later hired by the Eastern District's board of judges.