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The White House and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., announced a deal Wednesday to resolve a bitter dispute about the selection of future federal judges, U.S. Attorneys and marshals in Florida. A key feature of the deal: a green light from Graham that should put the first Cuban-American woman into a U.S. District Court seat in Miami. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga’s nomination by President Bush had been stalled since it was announced in September. Graham, a Democrat, had refused to give his approval, a customary requirement from the senators of the state where a federal nominee is from. “My complaint has never been with the qualifications of individual nominees, but with the fact that the White House deviated from the nominating process which has so well served Floridians,” said Graham, who has announced plans to make his own run for the White House. The deal announced Wednesday afternoon does not include an agreement by Graham to support conservative Miguel Estrada, President Bush’s polarizing nominee for an opening on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Graham’s office, however, said the senator will immediately back Altonaga and will “encourage prompt consideration and support” for her before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Graham announced similar support for three other stalled nominees for U.S. marshal posts in North, Central and South Florida. One of those nominees, Christina Fernandez-Pharo, had also been caught up in the controversy that’s surrounded federal nominations in Florida for more than a year. To get Graham’s support, the White House pledged to abide by Florida’s nonpartisan process for selecting future nominees from Florida needing Senate confirmation. Graham has complained that in the cases of Altonaga and Fernandez-Pharo, the White House bypassed the merit selection process to get the nominees it wanted. Critics had accused the president of ethnic politicking to help his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, get re-elected last year. Graham’s office said that the agreement capped months of discussion with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales “about the importance of the state’s nominating commissions.” President Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., wrote to Graham on Wednesday. “I want to reiterate that the president is committed to following the commission process in Florida and intends to abide by the rules of procedure of the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, consistent with ‘the Constitutional and statutory powers, duties or prerogatives of the president of the United States or the Senate in the filling of vacancies by nomination and confirmation.’ “The administration shares your desire to promptly fill the federal judicial and United States marshals vacancies in Florida,” Card said. There will be one small change to the current JNC selection process, Graham spokesman Paul Anderson said. From now on, those vetting committees will recommend six names to the president for consideration, not three.

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