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Republican senators are anxious about 28 judicial nominees awaiting confirmation, the 46 total vacancies and the dwindling time left in President Bush’s term to get more of his candidates on the federal bench. Of the 28 nominees awaiting approval by the Senate, 10 are appellate court nominees and 18 are trial court selections. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in particular is in the political crosshairs. With five of its 15 judicial seats vacant and the current members of the court divided evenly with five Republican and five Democrat appointees, the president who fills those vacancies could shift the philosophical balance of the court. The 3d Circuit has two nominees, including Shalom D. Stone to fill the seat vacated by the elevation of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. One nominee on the D.C. Circuit would fill the seat left by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Two vacancies on the 6th Circuit and one on the 1st Circuit await confirmation. Bush has not nominated anyone to fill the single opening on the 9th Circuit, and he has nominees for four of the five 4th Circuit vacancies. Although senators don’t focus as much attention on district judge seats, two nominees have come in for vocal opposition: Richard H. Honaker, nominated for the district court in Wyoming, over anti-abortion positions in the past; and Gustavus A. Puryear IV, who is up for a judgeship in the Middle District of Tennessee. He serves as general counsel for the private prisons company, Corrections Corp. of America, and has been criticized as hostile to civil rights. The June demarcation Political tensions are building with the approach of June, which is considered the demarcation for potential nominees to win approval before the approaching November election slows all but the non-controversial or compromise candidates. This cranked up the political rhetoric last week, with some Republican senators threatening to stall legislation until judges get confirmed. “There is a growing movement in the Republican caucus to hold up legislation if we cannot move in any other way to get justice on the confirmation of these judges,” said Senator Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., responded last week to Republican criticism of the pace of judicial confirmations saying, “[t]here is a Yiddish word for those Republican complaints: chutzpah.” Reid cited denial of floor votes to “60 qualified nominees” during former President Clinton’s tenure. Bush confirmations lag behind totals for his predecessors. Bush has had 298 judges confirmed so far in his two terms in office, including two Supreme Court justices, while Clinton had 378 judges confirmed, which is second only in history to President Ronald Reagan with 389 judges. Backroom maneuvers Yet two backroom deals in the Senate may ease up the tensions, at least temporarily, and get a few candidates confirmed. Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agreed to try to confirm three appellate court judges prior to the Memorial Day holiday, which falls on May 26. But they did not specify who among the 10 appellate nominees might get the green light. A second agreement produced a big breakthrough for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has had two vacancies, one dating back eight years. President Bush withdrew the controversial 6th Circuit nominee Stephen Murphy and resubmitted his name for a district court post in Michigan, while nominating Helene White, someone acceptable to Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, for one vacancy. The other 6th Circuit nominee is Raymond M. Kethledge, who at 39 is one of the youngest nominees ever. He is known for his defense work in products liability class actions. Appellate nominations attracting the most heat include three of the four 4th Circuit nominees: • Steve A. Matthews, who is currently managing director of Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, the fourth largest law firm in South Carolina. He served as special assistant to Attorney General Edwin Meese for Iran-Contra matters and advised Meese during investigation of the scandal. He also served on the board of the conservative Landmark Legal Foundation, which nominated radio host Rush Limbaugh for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. • Robert J. Conrad Jr. of North Carolina, a federal district judge since 2005 who previously worked 12 years as a federal prosecutor. He is considered a staunch conservative. • Rod J. Rosenstein, of Baltimore. Despite serving as U.S. Attorney for Maryland since 2005, Rosenstein drew the opposition of both Democrat senators who wanted someone with a longer history in Maryland. A fourth nominee, Stephen Agee, garnered a spot after heavy opposition prompted E. Duncan Getchell Jr. to withdraw. Agee is seen as the compromise candidate with support from both Virginia senators, Democrat Jim Webb and Republican John Warner. Another circuit court candidate is Peter D. Keisler, whose nomination to the D.C. Circuit has languished since 2006. The squabble in his case centers around whether the circuit needs 11 judges. During Clinton’s administration, Republicans argued that the caseload justified only 10 seats, and they held up appointments. Since then, the circuit’s 12th seat was eliminated but the caseload has fallen, raising the question whether Keisler is needed to fill the 11th seat.

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