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President Bush on Wednesday nominated Jay Bybee, an assistant attorney general in charge of the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, for a spot on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A native of Las Vegas, Bybee would fill a void created by former Chief Judge Procter Hug Jr., who took senior status early this year. “Professor Jay Bybee has embodied the best in public service, legal aptitude and is admired throughout the field as a leader. He has a brilliant legal mind and will be a valued addition to the 9th Circuit,” said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., after the announcement was made. In his current job as the Bush administration’s top constitutional lawyer, Bybee issues opinions to the president and attorney general — a position that would have helped formulate policy in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks — and reviews proposed legislation for constitutional problems. It’s the same job that Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia did before becoming judges, but Bybee’s tenure there has been short. He left the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Boyd School of Law following his OLC confirmation just seven months ago. Bybee grew up in the Las Vegas desert area until his family headed East when he was a teen-ager. His father lost his job at Nevada’s nuclear test site when federal funding dried up. He graduated from Brigham Young University’s law school. A short stint in private practice preceded the jump into government work. He started at the DOJ before becoming associate counsel in the White House under President George Bush Sr. Following Bill Clinton’s election, Bybee taught constitutional law at Louisiana State University. He left the bayou to return home to Las Vegas, becoming a founding faculty member at UNLV’s law school. “He’s highly intelligent, hard working, independent and has a good judicial temperament,” said Bybee’s UNLV colleague, Carl Tobias. It is not known how Democrats will receive Bybee’s nomination. Partisan bickering over the process has led to open warfare recently, with Republicans blaming Democrats for delays in confirming judges, and Democrats responding by saying their record compares favorably to the Republican-led Senate under President Clinton. One 9th Circuit nomination, though, appears to have found smooth waters. Hawaii lawyer Richard Clifton was recommended unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and could be approved by the full Senate any day. The prospects of another nominee, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl, are more in doubt. California Sen. Barbara Boxer has not yet supported a hearing for Kuhl. There is one remaining vacancy on the 9th Circuit, the largest federal appellate court in the country.

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