President Barack Obama’s choice for a spot on a federal appeals court is getting bottled up in committee, after one of the nominee’s home-state senators apparently reversed his initial support.

In March, Obama nominated former Kansas attorney general Stephen Six for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. Six appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing in May and has been on the committee’s agenda for a vote several times.

But this week, Kansas’ two Republican senators, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, signed a letter saying they oppose any vote on Six’s nomination. Roberts initially indicated he approved, according to Judiciary Committee documents, but he switched and now says he opposes Six based on some of his actions as state attorney general.

Abortion rights opponents in Kansas have lined up against Six, too, citing disputes from his time as attorney general over an investigation into Planned Parenthood.

At a Judiciary Committee meeting on Thursday, Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he would put off any further action on Six’s nomination in deference to the two Kansas senators. “We will not go forward,” Leahy said.

Confrontation over the nomination has been brewing for months. Roberts, in filling out a committee form known as a “blue slip,” put a check mark next to “I approve.” The form was submitted on April 12, a Leahy spokeswoman said. On a similar form, Moran wrote, “I reserve [judgment] until after the hearing.”

Then, in June, Roberts released a short statement saying he would oppose Six. That prompted Leahy to write letters to Roberts and Moran on July 12 asking how to proceed. Leahy wrote that it was his understanding that White House staff consulted with the senators prior to the nomination and that Six was a “consensus” nominee. At Thursday’s meeting, Leahy said that as recently as “a few days ago” Roberts told him to “go ahead” with holding a committee vote on Six, despite Roberts’ own opposition.

“This type of reversal of position by a home state senator on a nomination has rarely occurred,” Leahy wrote in his letter to Roberts.

In a statement released late on Thursday, Roberts detailed several reasons for his opposition. He said that, as state attorney general, Six “failed to see any Constitutional defects with the newly passed health care reform law,” a position that Roberts said raises concerns about Six’s views on the “proper role of government in our lives.”

Roberts also said that Six, as attorney general, inappropriately deferred to subordinates in the approval of a wiretap application during a drug investigation and in the Planned Parenthood investigation. “As the attorney general, the nominee was fully responsible for the decisions and actions under his leadership, but instead sought to distance himself,” Roberts said.

“Based on the nominee’s own testimony and responses to questions, I found significant difficulty in recommending the nominee to this lifelong appointment to the appellate court position,” Roberts said.

A spokeswoman for Moran did not respond to a request for comment. A White House spokesman had no comment.
 
David Ingram can be contacted at dingram@alm.com.