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A Senate Judiciary chairman said Tuesday that President Bush’s judicial nominees should be grilled openly about abortion and other hot issues since senators privately consider those views anyway. “It’s high time we return to a more open and more rational consideration of ideology when we review nominees,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who chairs the Judiciary courts subcommittee. “Let’s make our confirmation process more honest, more clear and hopefully more legitimate.” Republicans, however, claim they generally have not used litmus tests on Democratic nominees and accuse Democrats of looking for excuses to eliminate Bush’s judges. “What’s being suggested here is a significant departure from the way that nominees have traditionally been treated,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who also sits on the Judiciary Committee. “Have there been exceptions? Quite, but they prove the rule because they are exceptions to that general deference that’s always been given to the president’s nominees.” “What I fear is going on with the hearing today is trying to establish a new litmus test for the Senate that has not existed in the past,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “I don’t understand why we’re trying to do that.” Two former White House counsels agreed that senators should stay away from political considerations when they review potential judges. “Just like presidents and members of the Department of Justice and the White House counsel, they should be careful to limit their interrogations on a candidate’s stand on issues about to reach the court,” said Lloyd Cutler, who served as White House counsel under Presidents Carter and Clinton. “And candidates should decline to reply when efforts are made to find out how they would (rule) on a particular case.” “Ideological inquiries are perilous because of the message they send to the public at large,” added C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel under the first President Bush. “If senators focus on the results or outcomes in particular, people will simply view the judiciary as another political institution. Under this setting, law is just politics by other means.” The role of ideology in judicial selections, the focus of the hearing, has been a running theme since Bush took office. Bush ended the American Bar Association’s role in the White House’s confidential judicial screening process. Many conservatives see the ABA as liberal-leaning and blamed its mixed review of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s qualifications for his rejection by the Senate. Democrats complained that Bush has politicized the nomination process. GOP senators now fear Democrats, who took over the Senate this month, will use their majority status to block Bush’s judicial choices for political reasons, including Republicans’ treatment of several of former President Clinton’s nominees. They point to comments like Schumer’s — “we will not have nominations of right-wing after right-wing after right-wing judges” — as evidence. Democrats, including Schumer, insist they will not use a liberal litmus test to eliminate Bush nominees. Skeptical Republicans have delayed reorganizing the Senate as they try to win concessions on judges, including allowing candidates to automatically skip a review by the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and go straight to the full Senate. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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