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Vote Gains Help GOP Plans For The Judiciary


November 7, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved. 

WASHINGTON - Now that Republicans have recaptured the Senate, President Bush should have a much easier time getting his nominees for federal judgeships approved.

The Republican takeover could also help Attorney General John Ashcroft push through more law-and-order measures to combat terrorism. It could even pave the way for a retirement or two in the Supreme Court.

The outcome is likely to be a more conservative Supreme Court, and a more conservative federal judiciary.

With the power switch in the Senate, conservative Republican Orrin Hatch, of Utah, will take over the reins of the Judiciary Committee from Sen. Patrick Leahy, a liberal Vermont Democrat.

Republicans accused Leahy and fellow Democrats of playing politics by throwing up roadblocks to Bush's nominees to the federal judiciary. They point to party-line votes that rejected Texas Supreme Court Judge Priscilla Owen and Charles Pickering, a federal judge in the Southern District of Mississippi. Both had been nominated to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Committee Democrats this fall also refused to vote on Bush's nomination of Miguel Estrada, a Honduran immigrant and Harvard Law School graduate who rose to assistant solicitor general in the Clinton administration, to the D.C. Circuit Court. Estrada's nomination is closely watched because it is believed Bush might make him the first Hispanic to fill a Supreme Court vacancy.

Judiciary's Democrats say they've only rejected Owen and Pickering while confirming 80 of the president's 131 nominees so far. They point out that when Republicans were in charge of the Senate, they avoided even holding hearings on a raft of President Clinton's nominees.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday that with Senate control in Republican hands ``it is far more likely that many of these good, bipartisan names will be able to move forward.''

Judiciary Committee Republicans predicted faster confirmations and, possibly, the resurrection of judicial nominees Democrats did in.

''We have the majority now and I believe we're going to confirm judges,'' Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., said Wednesday.

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