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The judicial nomination wars are back. And they could get ugly. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) announced he would make “every effort” to see that the stalled nomination of White House staff secretary Brett Kavanaugh — a red-meat candidate for Democrats if there ever was one — receives an up-or-down vote before Memorial Day. Kavanaugh was going to be voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, but Democrats exercised their right to postpone the committee vote by one week. At the same time, they reiterated their demand for another hearing on the nominee, who first testified two years ago. Kavanaugh, 41, was a prominent player in the Bush judge-picking machine while an associate White House counsel, and he spent four years in the Office of the Independent Counsel under Kenneth Starr, helping draft a report on possible grounds for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. But it is his actions as an associate White House counsel from 2001 to 2003 that Democrats want to question, in particular his role, if any, in the White House domestic spying program, its torture policies, and the Jack Abramoff scandal. Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), clearly dubious about whether a second hearing would change what is expected to be a 10-8 party-line vote, said he would make his decision this week. “The lines are drawn because of his White House backing and that he was on Ken Starr’s staff,” Specter said. “Let’s face facts.” But he later told reporters that it was imperative to avoid a Democratic filibuster and that another hearing might prove that the Democrats’ worst fears about Kavanaugh were unfounded. Second hearing or not, two other contentious nominees for U.S. Court of Appeals seats wait in the wings, each of whom may prove an easier filibuster target than Kavanaugh. U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle is a prot�g� of former North Carolina GOP Sen. Jesse Helms and was first nominated for a seat on the 4th Circuit in 1991. But he is opposed by more than 30 law enforcement groups and has a reversal rate nearly twice the national average. And 5th Circuit nominee Michael Wallace, a former aide to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), has come under withering criticism from many civil rights groups who oppose his nomination.
T.R. Goldman can be contacted at [email protected].

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