Posted 6:25 p.m. Nov. 19
by Bernard Pollacl
U-WIRE (DC BUREAU)
(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON–Two weeks after Republicans recaptured the Senate, President George W. Bush has succeeded in gaining support for his judicial nominees from key Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The nominations of Dennis Shedd, a federal judge in South Carolina and Michael McConnell, a University of Utah law professor, were approved by the Senate Judiciary and will likely be confirmed by the full Senate, despite earlier attempts by Democrats to block their nominations.
“We have the majority now, and I believe we’re going to confirm judges,” Sen. Arlen Specter, (R-Pa.), said on Friday.
Democrats on the committee that is responsible for all appointments of federal judges, including Chairman Patrick J. Leahey (D-VT), contend that the confirmation of Shedd and McConnell had nothing to do with the recent elections, but was a gesture to retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) and Sen. Orrin G Hatch (R-Utah). Shedd was a former aid to Sen Thurmond, and Hatch was an ardent supporter of McConnell.
Civil rights and pro-choice advocates are contending that Democrats are being too complacent in offering these nominees their approval. Advocacy group NARAL says that the Senate Judiciary Committee’s decision to confirm Dennis Shedd and Michael McConnell are threatening the reproductive rights of women living in the Fourth and Tenth Circuit Court states, districts they feel have already restricted a woman’s right to choose.
“We can only hope that this is not a harbinger of what is to come when Supreme Court vacancies occur,” said NARAL President Kate Michelman.
With the Senate power switch, Sen. Orrin Hatch, a conservative Utah Republican, will take over the Judiciary Committee reins from Sen. Leahy.
The nomination of District Judge Charles Pickering Jr. of Mississippi has created contentious debate among civil rights groups and labor unions. They contend that as a law student, Charles Pickering wrote an article suggesting how the state legislature could pass a law, which the legislator then adopted, criminalizing interracial marriage.
Advocates also assert that he is a strong supporter of the death penalty and that during his eight years as a state senator in Mississippi, Pickering cast several votes that denied electoral opportunities to African American voters.
“President Bush should nominate to the courts, and the Senate should confirm, civil rights champions, not nominees with questionable records on civil rights,” according to an AFL-CIO press release.
In a recent statement, Sen. Trent Lott, (R-Miss.), the incoming Republican majority leader, said that given the recent elections, Pickering would soon be re-nominated.
Texas Supreme Court Judge Priscilla Owen is another Bush nominee that is drawing heavy fire from advocacy groups and Democratic Party operatives. Groups like Public Citizen and National Organization of Women (NOW) claim that Owen’s campaign was heavily subsidized by contributions from Enron Corporation, and that she represents a “far ring wing agenda”
According to NOW President Kim Gandy, Owen “is a judge whose political zealotry prevents fair application of the law has no place on the federal bench.”
While Pickering and Owen were among the rejected nominees, the committee under Democratic control has approved 100 of the 103 Bush judicial nominations it considered, including 17 of 20 appellate nominees.
While it remains to be seen how widespread the impact of the 2002 elections will be, the recent support for McConnell and Shedd among Democrats indicates a willingness, at least momentarily, to appease Republicans.