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Janice Rogers Brown’s name goes back before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, with some saying the California Supreme Court justice’s nomination to the federal bench could be the one Republicans eventually use to go “nuclear.” That option refers to a proposal that would change the congressional rule now requiring 60 votes to end a filibuster to a simple majority — and clear the path for President Bush’s most controversial nominees. “People think she may well be the one, either her or Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, on whom the Republican leadership will try to pull the trigger on the nuclear option,” Seth Rosenthal, legal director of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal Washington, D.C.-based group, said Wednesday. “They want to do it on a woman and an African-American,” he added, “because they want to play the race card.” Brown’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has been stalled since December 2003, two months after she endured a scathingly hostile hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But her name and those of five other Bush nominees return to the committee today during an executive business meeting to consider whether to send them on to the full Senate. Democratic insiders say Brown most likely won’t get voted out today because the eight minority members have the authority, under committee rules, to hold over her nomination for one week. That means a decision on Brown could take place April 21. Tracy Schmaler, spokeswoman for Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday that the rules give the minority members “one bite at the apple” in briefly holding off a vote. A spokesman for Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the committee, said he also expects no vote today, but wouldn’t speculate about any other aspect of Brown’s nomination. Brown, as she has done throughout the process, declined to comment. The justice was officially nominated to the D.C. Circuit on July 25, 2003, upsetting liberal groups worried that Bush was grooming her for the U.S. Supreme Court. The D.C. Circuit is often seen as a stepping stone to the high court. Many groups labeled Brown, 55, possibly the most conservative of the state Supreme Court justices, as the “far-right dream judge,” and compared her to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, another black conservative. At her 2003 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Brown was badgered unmercifully about her rulings and many of her out-of-court speeches. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., called her a “conservative judicial activist” and home state Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein referred to her opinions and talks as “extraordinarily intemperate.” “Your views are stark,” she said. “Is that the real you?” Fifteen days later, on a party line 10-8 vote, Brown’s nomination was referred to the full Senate. Brown won’t have to endure Senate attacks in person any longer because she’s not required to attend any further hearings or discussions about her nomination. But Bush’s resubmission of Brown’s name, as well as the others, comes at a time when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, of Tennessee, has threatened to change the rules — applying the nuclear option — if Democrats try to filibuster. Whether that happens sooner, later or never isn’t clear. “The speculation is that if he had the votes now, he would have done it,” Alliance for Justice’s Rosenthal said. Frist’s office didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment. What is clear to many, however, is that Brown likely will be voted out of the Judiciary Committee by a party-line vote again. It would then be up to Frist to decide when to call her nomination up for a full vote, and whether to go all out for her nomination. Supporters — and even detractors — say she has a sympathetic story, having elevated herself from the life of a sharecropper’s daughter in Alabama to a justice on the most populous state’s highest court. To this day, Brown’s nomination remains contentious. The Saveourcourts.org Web site lists dozens of groups — from the Gray Panthers to the Congressional Black Caucus — who oppose her, but there are many conservative groups and law professors who contend she’s being maligned unjustly. Even Gerald Uelmen, a liberal professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law, defended her after she was nominated in 2003, calling her a libertarian, not a conservative. “I admire her wit, her courage and her independence,” he said at that time. “I wish we focused the process more on personal qualities than on labels.”

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