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The U.S. Senate on Wednesday confirmed Judge D. Brooks Smith for a seat on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 64-35. Smith, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, was opposed by many liberal groups for his past membership in a men-only fishing and hunting club and for rulings that liberals said show insensitivity to environmental, labor, consumer and women’s concerns. But the opposition to Smith lost much of its steam in May when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-7 to recommend his confirmation, with three key Democrats breaking ranks to lend their support, including Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., a former chairman of the panel, whose state is also within the 3rd Circuit. Wednesday’s vote by the full Senate came amid a flurry of activity on judicial nominees just prior to the Senate’s summer recess. Three nominees were confirmed for judgeships in Pennsylvania — Joy Flowers Conti for a seat on the Western District bench and Christopher C. Conner and John E. Jones III for seats on the Middle District. And two more nominees for Pennsylvania seats advanced Wednesday when the Judiciary Committee voted to recommend that they be confirmed. They are Terrence F. McVerry and Arthur J. Schwab, both nominated to the Western District bench. But the Senate put off taking any action on the most controversial pending nominee — Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, who was tapped for a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Many of the same groups that opposed Smith have joined forces to fight against Owen’s confirmation. A coalition of environment groups contends that Owen has a record of favoring special interests over public health and ordinary citizens. As proof, they point to a dissenting opinion in which Owen argued that property rights justified giving large landowners the power to exempt themselves from environmental protection and land-use safeguards. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Alberto Gonzales (who is currently White House counsel), stated: “Most of Justice Owen’s dissent is nothing more than inflammatory rhetoric, and thus merits no response.” For Smith, the controversy and the wait are now over. Smith, a native of Tyrone, Pa., was first nominated to the Western District bench by President Reagan. A former prosecutor, he was 36 when he became a federal judge in November 1988. Among his Western District colleagues, Smith has a reputation for being conservative, deliberate and scholarly. He also enjoys reading constitutional and U.S. history as well as biographies of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Marshall. In an interview in January 2001, Smith did not sound terribly interested in appellate work, which can seem especially isolating to a seasoned trial judge. Boxes of briefs arrive almost daily for appeals court judges. Former district court judges elevated to appeals courts sometimes find that they miss the fast-paced work of presiding over a trial and debating legal issues with lawyers. “I am looking ahead this year to being the chief judge of this court. I am going to have as much as I can handle with those responsibilities and the travel I engage in,” said Smith, who shuttles between his chambers in Johnstown, Pa., and Pittsburgh to hear cases.

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