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As senators fled the capital for a month-long recess last week, President George W. Bush made sure they’d have plenty to do when they got back. Bush dumped the names of 18 judicial nominees and 26 U.S. Attorneys into the Senate’s in-box, ratcheting up the pressure on Democrats in both numbers and rhetoric. So far, the president has made 47 selections for the federal bench, naming would-be judges for nearly half of the 100-plus vacancies around the country. Four have been confirmed by the Democrat-controlled Senate, the latest being Nebraska litigator William Riley for the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. At an Aug. 2 briefing, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer argued that tradition called for the Senate to act on the rest of the nominees by the end of the year. He pointed out that in the first years of the Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Bill Clinton presidencies, the Senate had voted on nearly every one of the judicial nominees named by the August recess. Of the three previous presidents, Reagan led the way with 14 judges confirmed by the end of his first year, but the Bush administration hopes to more than triple that record. “Consistent with that bipartisan history, the president hopes and urges that the Senate will move forward and act on all [47] of his nominations this year,” Fleischer said. Speaking on the Senate floor just hours later, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he was considering holding a judicial nominations hearing during the August recess — a rare if not unprecedented event — but did not address the White House target specifically. Moreover, Leahy attempted to put the urging of the White House and Senate Republicans for more action on judicial nominations into perspective, given the way the tables have turned in the past year. Leahy reeled off a list of 12 Clinton circuit court nominees who were never voted on by the Republican-controlled Senate. “I have yet to hear our Republican critics acknowledge any shortcomings among the practices they employed over the last six years,” Leahy said. “When they have done that and we have established a common basis of understanding and comparison, we will have taken a significant step forward.” Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the committee and the chairman from 1995 until the Democratic takeover in May, has been quick to remind anyone that Clinton succeeded in getting 374 judges confirmed, even though six of his eight years were spent with Republicans in control of the Senate. Reagan got just four more confirmed, 378, despite enjoying Republican Senate control for six years. In a floor speech July 20, Hatch said, “If Chairman Leahy believes that I, as chairman, did not move Clinton nominees and was unfair — which the facts and the record clearly show otherwise — then I would hope he would do the right thing and move nominees at a faster pace than I did.” Nominees with bipartisan support from home-state senators often get relatively easy confirmation regardless of which party controls the Senate. This was evident in the case of the four Bush nominees confirmed so far. Nebraskan Riley was backed by Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel and Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, while two Montana district judges had been aggressively pushed by Democrat Max Baucus and Republican Conrad Burns. Republicans John Warner and George Allen supported 4th Circuit Judge Roger Gregory, originally nominated by Clinton last year. That practice bodes well for former prosecutor Larry Hicks, nominated for a district court seat in Nevada. Republican John Ensign and Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid have been working together on recommending nominees to Bush. The Associated Press quoted Reid as saying Hicks “is going to make a great judge.” White House and Justice Department officials say Bush will attempt to select nominees for most of the remaining 59 vacancies by the end of the year. “That’s a very laudable goal,” says Eleanor Acheson, who oversaw the Justice Department’s judicial vetting during the Clinton administration. “It was our constant goal.” Marcia Kuntz, who heads the judicial selection project of the liberal Alliance for Justice, says Bush’s team “recognizes how important the courts are in perpetuating their jurisprudential and political agenda. The avalanche of nominations reflects that.” The other nominees announced on Aug. 2 included: Jeffrey Howard for a New Hampshire seat on the 1st Circuit; Terrence O’Brien for a Wyoming seat on the 10th Circuit; Karon Bowdry and Callie Granade for spots on the District Court in Alabama; David Bunning (son of Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.), Karen Caldwell, and Danny Reeves for District Court seats in Kentucky; Kurt Engelhardt for a district court seat in Louisiana; William Johnson and Christina Armijo for district court seats in New Mexico; Claire Eagan, James Payne, Joe Heaton, and Stephen Friot for District Court seats in Oklahoma; and Lawrence Block, Charles Lettow, and Marion Horne — who is being nominated for a second 15-year term — for the D.C.-based U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

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