Background: Bench Battle
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KWAME HOLMAN: It might have been called “Judgment Day.” Senators spent hours today trading accusations over the alleged refusal by Democrats to confirm federal judges nominated by President Bush.
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL, (R) Kentucky: If you’ve seen this man, you might want to report him to the judiciary committee so he can get a hearing.
KWAME HOLMAN: The day of partisan sparring was orchestrated on the one-year anniversary of President Bush’s sending up his first judicial nominations to the Senate for confirmation. It was May 9 last year when Mr. Bush personally introduced 11 nominees to the federal bench. Three have been confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
In all, Mr. Bush has nominated 99 candidates to the federal appeals and district courts. The Senate has confirmed 56. Things got started today before 10:00 a.m., when some two dozen Republican Senators convened a news conference.
SEN. RICK SANTORUM, (R) Pennsylvania: We do are a crisis in the courts, it’s a crisis that’s created by obstructionism of the President’s judicial nominees, here in the United States Senate.
KWAME HOLMAN: An hour later, Senate Democrats fired back at their own news event, presenting people they said were victims of bad decisions by federal judges.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, (D) Massachusetts: Republicans don’t understand that the issues at stake here go far beyond partisan games. This debate is about lifetime appointments to the court that decide case that’s shape of lives of all American people.
KWAME HOLMAN: Simultaneously, the Democratic chairman of a judiciary subcommittee presented some evidence of his own– a group of people nominated to federal judgeships by Bill Clinton. They never got a Senate vote when Republicans controlled the chamber.
New York’s Chuck Schumer:
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D) New York: We have heard such indignation from the other side about judges being held up, when the same thing was done a year or two ago. I don’t understand that. I can understand saying, “that was wrong,” and, “this is wrong,” but to be on such a high horse when just in a short time- – not in distant historical memory– the same thing was done. That bothers me.
KWAME HOLMAN: Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions:
SEN. JEF SESSIONS, (R) Alabama: I don’t agree. I think the ground rules have been changed. I think this is an unprecedented slowdown of judicial nominations as the chart Senator Hatch put up there displays and shows that President Clinton overwhelmingly got the nominations that he wanted confirmed.
KWAME HOLMAN: All day long, it was a battle about numbers.
SPOKESMAN: That would be ten out of thirty. That’s one out of three.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: The vacancies rose almost by 75 percent, from 63 to 110.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Get ready for the truth. There were 41 such nominees. Let me repeat, 41, which is 13 less than the 54 the Democrats who controlled the Senate in 1992 left at the end of the first Bush Administration.
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, President Bush himself weighed in, calling the pace of judicial confirmations “bad for the country.”
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Because of vacancies, good, honest Americans aren’t getting their hearings, and this isn’t right. For the good of the country, the Senate needs to act and act expeditiously on the nominees I’ve sent up. It’s important that our judiciary be full.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senate Democratic leaders also chose today to call up four more judicial nominees. Each was confirmed unanimously.