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Like soldiers going to war, President George W. Bush’s first judicial nominees enjoyed a shower of praise at the White House last week before heading off for confirmation hearings in the Senate. “All have sterling credentials and have met high standards of legal training, temperament, and judgment,” Bush said of the 11 would-be circuit judges standing with him in the ornate East Room. “As a group they command broad, bipartisan support among those who know them and who have served with them.” Indeed, Senate Democrats said they were encouraged by Bush’s first batch, especially since three candidates who’d already been opposed by home-state senators did not make the inaugural list. But by the end of the week, the battles that lay before the nominees were beginning to take shape. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were still arguing over procedure; a vote on Bush’s pick to be solicitor general had been tabled for a third week; and at least one member of Bush’s carefully selected list of circuit nominees seemed headed for controversy. In all, the process has started out as partisan and turbulent as it was under President Bill Clinton, though with the roles reversed: Republicans playing offense and the Democrats playing defense. The most obvious trouble spot was federal trial Judge Terrence Boyle, Bush’s choice for a North Carolina seat on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He’s the only nominee not supported by both home-state senators, a problem that has plagued Boyle and other Tarheel State candidates for nearly a decade. In 1991, the elder President Bush picked Boyle for the seat, only to be stymied by Democrats controlling the Senate. In response, Boyle’s former boss and chief Republican sponsor North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms blocked President Clinton’s attempts to place other nominees on the court. Now that Boyle is back, Democratic Sen. John Edwards is withholding his support unless the White House picks one of his choices for another open North Carolina seat. State appeals Judge James Wynn “is the natural choice,” Edwards said Thursday, because he was a Clinton nominee who never got a hearing from the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Utah Republican Orrin Hatch. Edwards, a former trial lawyer, said last week that he is not committed solely to Wynn. “But my goal is to get somebody through the process. … We ought to be finding constructive, positive ways to get this done — and not threatening one another.” Edwards said he or his staff talked with White House judge-pickers at least three times last week, seeking a deal that both sides could live with. The White House declines to discuss possible nominations. When asked about Edwards’ opposition to Boyle, Hatch — who has been a conciliator in some judicial selection disputes with Democrats and a party loyalist on others — said, “I’ll work with them and see what I can do to resolve these difficulties.” ADVISE AND DISSENT Another storm could be developing as the Judiciary Committee hashes out its role in the process. Hatch said Thursday he expects to hold hearings on the Bush nominees “within the next one to three weeks,” a schedule that appears to be too fast for Democrats and sidesteps an ongoing dispute over how much power senators have to block candidates tapped to serve in their states. That schedule also would not allow the American Bar Association — which Bush removed in March from its traditional role pre-screening nominees — to complete a review requested by Senate Democrats. ABA President Martha Barnett said the group’s reviews have typically taken 30 days. “But it’s a new world,” she added, given that the group previously started its inquiries with already-completed questionnaires from candidates. The ABA now only has the names of the nominees, made official last Wednesday. Hatch, expecting the ABA to be able to complete its review within three weeks, said his schedule would allow Democrats enough time to see the ABA review before a committee vote occurs. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Hatch’s desire for speed may actually slow things down. “It simply creates more concerns,” said Leahy, “more of a worry there’s something being hidden here.” Bush has made judicial nominations a top priority, a fact emphasized by the White House ceremony announcing his first nominees. Previous presidents have held such events only for nominees to the Supreme Court. While trying to take advantage of Republican control of the Senate to quickly confirm judges for the nation’s influential appellate courts, the White House seems to have steered clear of sure confrontations in states with two Democratic senators. Bush opted not to forward — at least for now — the names of Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl for the 9th Circuit, and D.C.-based Sidley Austin Brown & Wood partner Peter Keisler for a Maryland seat on the 4th Circuit. Though Hatch’s hearing schedule appears to aim for a quick vote, Senate Democrats have shown themselves willing to use their equal power on the 18-member committee to delay any nominee that does not pass muster. On May 3, all nine Democrats walked out of a Judiciary Committee meeting, denying Hatch a quorum for votes on two top Department of Justice designees. One of them, Deputy Attorney General-designate Larry Thompson, was unanimously approved May 10, along with DOJ legislative liaison-designate Daniel Bryant. Both were confirmed by the full Senate a few hours later. Also last week, DOJ Antitrust Division chief nominee Charles James was approved by a 12-5 vote. The dissenting Democrats declined to elaborate on their votes, and Hatch called the issue a procedural problem. But Solicitor General nominee Theodore Olson, mired in controversy over what role he may have played in a conservative magazine’s investigations into President Clinton, saw his committee vote delayed for the third week in a row. Last week, just before Bush announced his judicial nominees, New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer pledged that Democrats would walk out again if Hatch tries to force a vote on a nominee who does not have support from both home-state senators. Schumer said the Democrats, through their delaying tactics in the committee, have the power to force the White House to “act in a moderate way in terms of how they choose judges.” Hatch maintains that, especially on circuit judgeships, the committee tradition has been to give a home-state senator’s opposition “great weight” but not to allow the senator an automatic veto. Hatch and other Republicans have accused the Democrats of short-term thinking. The GOP reminded the Democrats that if and when they regain the presidency, they would regret granting home-state senators the unilateral right to prevent a nomination from coming to a vote. Leahy, though, was quick to reel off a list of Clinton judicial nominations delayed or scuttled by Republicans. “They required it the last six years,” he said. “We’ll expect that” now.

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