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A Senate debate on judicial nominees is expected to come to a head today as the Republican majority focuses on three women: Janice Rogers Brown, the California Supreme Court justice nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; Carolyn Kuhl, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge nominated to the 9th Circuit, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, a 5th Circuit nominee. During the unprecedented debate, Democrats are expected to filibuster on Brown and Kuhl. “These filibusters are not business as usual,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, of Tennessee. “Obstructionists have eroded more than two centuries of tradition.” Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said President Bush’s nominees were being treated unfairly by being denied an up-or-down vote on the floor. “Carolyn Kuhl — we’re going to have her first cloture vote on Friday, because they’re going to filibuster her. Janice Rogers Brown, they’re going to filibuster her,” Hatch said. He displayed a sign featuring pictures of Kuhl and Brown titled: “The Targeted Two.” Republicans cast the debate as an issue of fairness, while Democrats countered that Republicans were wasting time by holding up Senate business to debate four nominees. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., unveiled a large sign that read “168-4″ in yellow letters on a blue background. Schumer told Republicans and President Bush to reread the Constitution, suggesting they’ve misinterpreted the Senate’s “advice and consent” role on judicial nominees. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., objected to procedural changes enacted under Republican rule, including the level of deference given to the so-called “blue-slip” process. Feinstein, who is seen as a key swing vote on the committee, voted against Brown and Kuhl. She said Bush’s election “was not a mandate to skew the courts to the right.” Upset that Democrats have refused to allow a handful of President Bush’s nominees to proceed, Republicans are hoping to get around a logjam of real and threatened filibusters. A filibuster means that a nominee must garner 60 votes to win closure rather than a simple majority. Republicans have taken a Madison Avenue approach to the debate, branding it a “Justice for Judges Marathon” and appearing at a morning news conference against a slick backdrop complete with a stylized logo referencing the event. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the Republicans’ marathon a “partisan publicity stunt.” Reid, the assistant minority leader, produced an e-mail during the opening hours of the debate that he said had circulated among majority members. It stated that “the Fox News channel is really excited about the marathon,” and asked if Republicans would enter the chamber en masse at precisely 6:02 p.m. EST, since a Fox producer wanted to show it live on journalist Brit Hume’s evening program. Reid was joined by a colleague, who asked sarcastically: “Are we going to be getting updates on how Fox News wants to orchestrate the rest of this?” Feinstein was upset about changes in the blue-slip policy, which once allowed any one home state Senator to effectively veto a nominee by withholding approval. Kuhl was voted out of committee over the objection of Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. The old policy meant that 50 of President Clinton’s nominees never got a committee hearing, which she said could be seen as “a filibuster of one.” Feinstein singled out 9th Circuit nominee Barry Goode, who languished for three years before President Clinton withdrew his nomination. Goode went on to head Gov. Gray Davis’ legal affairs department, and on Tuesday was named to the state bench. “This is a nation of laws, and these laws should be obeyed, even if they’re just Judiciary Committee rules,” Feinstein said. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted Clinton’s nominees, including several who are sitting judges. For example, he accused New York U.S. District Judge Shira Sheindlin of having “a get-out-of-jail-free card for terrorist sympathizers.” McConnell didn’t spare the 9th Circuit, either, pointing to a ruling allowing an inmate to procreate by sending artificial insemination. The ruling — which was actually authored by a visiting judge — was reversed after an en banc hearing. “If there ever was a circuit in need of some moderation, balance and ideological diversity, I would argue that it is the 9th Circuit,” McConnell said.

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