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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has positioned the Democrats to be able to approve three circuit court judicial nominees by the Memorial Day deadline set in a deal with Republicans. But the trio of nominees does not contain any of the more conservative and controversial names the Republicans had hoped would get through in the waning days of the Bush administration. On Wednesday Leahy, D-Vt., set a May 7 hearing date for two nominees for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Helene N. White and Raymond M. Kethledge, both of Michigan. And a 4th Circuit nominee, G. Steven Agee was scheduled to have had his hearing May 1. With those three hearings cleared, the Senate would be in a position to confirm the nominees before the May 23 Memorial Day break, a deadline to approve three circuit judges set in a deal between majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, D-Nev., and minority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. But the nine Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have been strident in calls for more controversial names to be approved, two 4th Circuit names, Robert J. Conrad Jr. and Steve A. Matthews, as well as a D.C. Circuit nominee Peter Keisler. Keisler has been pending nearly two years, while Conrad and Matthews have been on hold more than seven months. “The Republicans appeared to be brewing for a fight,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond School of Law professor who studies the 4th Circuit and has been following the confirmation fight. “Leahy may have preempted it by setting a hearing May 7 [for Conrad and Matthews]. That possibly has taken the wind out of the sails,” Tobias said. Early Wednesday, Senator Arlen Specter, R-Pa., warned, “the clock is ticking,” and said that without confirmation hearings before May 6, it would be difficult to win confirmations in the full Senate. After setting the May 7 hearing date, Leahy issued a statement: “Some may be interested in angling for a political fight over judicial nominations, but I remain interested in making progress where we can rather than embroiling the Committee, and the Senate, in election year politics.” Also being heard on the May 1 and May 7 hearing dates are three district judge nominees: G. Murray Snow, for an Arizona trial court seat; William T. Lawrence for the Southern District of Indiana, and on May 7, Stephen J. Murphy III for the district court in Michigan. Murphy’s name was withdrawn from consideration for a 6th Circuit seat as too controversial, but was made a district court nominee as part of a deal with Michigan Democrats to accept Kethledge and White for the 6th Circuit vacancies.

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