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VOL. 4, NO. 18 Nov. 25, 2002

2003: Hope for Our Courts
In the wake of the fruit basket upset created by the unexpected 2002 election results, there is a much more hopeful outlook for judicial nominations. Since the 107th Congress is now history, an initial update on judicial nominations is needed.
In an unprecedented move, the Judiciary Committee's Democrat Chairman Patrick Leahy allowed voice votes on judicial nominees in the post-election session. Passed to the Senate floor with a favorable recommendation were two of Bush's best Appellate Court nominees — University of Utah Law Professor Michael McConnell (to the 10th Circuit) and U. S. District Court Dennis Shedd (to the 4th Circuit).
On the floor, however, problems erupted. Sens. Kennedy and Leahy, reportedly trying to shore up Mary Landrieu's liberal base in Louisiana before her run-off election on Dec. 7th, threatened to filibuster the Shedd nomination. It appeared that a cloture procedure would be invoked, requiring 60 Senate votes to end debate and vote on Shedd. This procedure was abandoned, however. And Shedd was finally confirmed, 55-44 — a fine victory at last for constitutionalism! The vote was as follows:

  YEAS: all 48 Republicans + 7 Dems: Byrd (WV), Graham (FL), Hollings (SC), Inouye (HI), Lincoln (AR), Miller (GA), and Nelson (NE);

  NAYS: 42 Dems + 2 Independents (Barkley (MN) & Jeffords (VT).

One of the first acts of the 2003 Senate will be to alter the Judiciary Committee membership. The GOP must fill the vacant seats of Strom Thurmond and Mitch McConnell and select the occupant for a third seat they pick up by virtue of gaining Senate control. The names of newcomers Jim Talent (MO), and Norman Coleman (MN) have been mentioned; but there currently appear to be no front-runners. The GOP will control the Committee, 10-9, with Orrin Hatch returning as Chairman.
The Democrats must determine whom they will remove from the Judiciary Committee since they have lost a seat in the GOP take-over of the Senate. The junior Democrat members are John Edwards (SC) — whose militant opposition to Bush nominees may have hurt his 2004 presidential dreams — and Maria Cantwell (WA).
The victims of the "Gang of Ten" Committee Democrats — Justice Priscilla Owen and Judge Charles Pickering, Sr. — are expected to be re-nominated in 2003.
It is extremely significant to the judicial/constitutional reform movement that both Pres. Bush and various candidates made the judicial nomination obstructionism of the Dems a campaign issue. This emphasis continues in post-election interviews with GOP leaders and Senators.
In addition to judicial nominations, the Senate should, at the beginning of its 2003 session, enact rules providing for fair treatment of nominees as suggested by Pres. Bush on Oct. 31st: 
  • A judge should give the Administration a year's notice before his retirement if possible (this requires no Senate action); 
  • The President will nominate a candidate within 180 days of receiving a retirement notice; 
  • The Judiciary Committee has up to 90 days to send the nominee to the Senate floor; 
  • The Senate as a whole has another 90 days to vote on the nominee.

Under this arrangement, a new judge would be ready to assume a judgeship as soon as the incumbent retires. This is a significant step in selecting constitutionalist judges, which is the first plank in Court Watch's "Five for the Future" Plan. Let's support this fair plan to replace the flawed plan which has prevailed for two years!


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