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Thursday, July 17, 2003

Senate giving nominees the 'slip'


Break the logjam now

The Senate logjam on judicial nominees continues, and Tristate lawmakers are in the thick of the fight to break it. We hope they succeed, because the continued shortage of federal judges, particularly in the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is intolerable.

On Wednesday, Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., held their second press conference on the issue since July 7.

Chabot, who chairs the House's Constitution Subcommittee, pointed out that the 6th Circuit is still in an official state of "judicial emergency," with four of 16 seats vacant. That's because the two Democratic senators from Michigan have put on hold President Bush's four nominees for two years, insisting on their own choices.

This is a game played for decades by both parties. One of President Clinton's nominees from Michigan was held up for four years by then-Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich. But 90 percent of Clinton's judicial nominees were confirmed, while barely 60 percent of Bush's have been.

Senate Democrats have taken the conflict two quantum leaps beyond the usual partisan wars:

• By filibustering nominees on the floor, as in the high-profile case of Miguel Estrada, they've made it necessary for a nominee to have a 60-vote cloture "supermajority" to even be considered by the full Senate.

• The old rule that a senator could blue-slip only nominees from his own state was altered while Democrats held the Senate to allow holds from anywhere in the circuit.

Chabot, who has held hearings on the vacancy crisis, argues that the intent of the Constitution's Article II, Section 2 was for the full Senate to decide. He cites Alexander Hamilton's dictum that the president is "bound to submit the propriety of his choice to the discussion and determination of ... an entire branch of the legislature."

Late last month, top legal scholars - deans and professors from Notre Dame, Harvard, the University of Michigan and other schools - wrote Frist to decry the "grave injustice" that has harmed the quality of justice in a circuit court "tainted by scandal and burdened by high caseloads."

The judicial roadblock is irresponsible, mean-spirited and pointless. It ought to end now.



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