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In between enduring anthrax exposure, passing anti-terrorism bills, and considering measures to fund the government, senators still have found time this week to bicker about judicial confirmations. On Monday, Senate Republicans blocked a foreign aid appropriation bill in an effort to force the Democratic majority to confirm dozens of President George W. Bush’s nominees. Democrats say they are moving as fast as they can — and if the Senate stays in session through November, that as many as 25 to 30 Bush picks could be confirmed. Bush so far has made 60 nominations to the lifetime posts on the federal bench, 25 for the circuit courts and 35 for the district courts. Since the Democrats took over the Senate in June, eight judges have been confirmed, four each for the appeals courts and the district courts. Another five — one circuit nominee and four district nominees — have had hearings and are expected to move through the Judiciary Committee and on to confirmation soon. Yet another circuit nominee and three district nominees are scheduled to have hearings today. Those hearings may be postponed, however, as authorities Wednesday were considering shutting the Capitol complex down to test for anthrax exposure. A spokeswoman to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who chairs the Judiciary Committee, reported that two more hearings — in addition to the one scheduled for today — will occur if the Senate stays in session through November. If five nominees appear at each hearing, that would mean 27 nominees would have had hearings. “The numbers show that the committee’s record meets or exceeds the pace of previous years despite the limited amount of time it has had to consider nominees,” said Mimi Devlin, the spokeswoman. Devlin reported that in 1989, the Democrat-controlled Senate confirmed 15 judicial nominees during the first year under President George Bush. In 1993, the Democrat-controlled Senate confirmed 27 of President Bill Clinton’s judicial nominees. But in a floor debate last week, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, accused Leahy and the Democrats of moving too slowly on Bush’s judges. Hatch pointed out that most judges nominated by the time of the August recess in the first year of a presidency usually get confirmed. Bush made 44 nominations before the August recess — far more than any president in recent memory. The confirmation rate of circuit court judges particularly vexed Hatch, who said that Clinton got three of his five circuit court nominees through in his first year. “That is 60 percent,” said Hatch, arguing that 60 percent of Bush’s 25 circuit court nominees should get through by the end of the year. The Democrats’ claim that they’re keeping up with recent confirmation paces, he said, “is an unfair comparison when you take into account the fact that President Bush has chosen to nominate 20 more circuit court nominees than President Clinton did in his first year.” During the last six years of the Clinton administration, Hatch drew fire from Democrats for allowing some Republicans to block nominees, particularly circuit court picks. In 1996, a spat between Hatch and the White House led to no circuit court nominees getting hearings. Nonetheless, Clinton ended up nearly tying Ronald Reagan’s all-time record for placing the most judges on the federal bench. During the brief floor debate, which occurred between the Senate’s handling aviation security bills and anti-terrorism bills, Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., acknowledged that this is an old fight. “It is amazing how history repeats itself,” he said. “What you were saying last year, we are saying this year. I guess before that, we were saying it or you were saying it.” The circuit nominee scheduled for today’s hearing is Charles Pickering Sr., a Mississippi federal district judge tapped for the 5th Circuit.

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