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The Philadelphia Inquirer

Chesco Judge Sanchez Nominated To U.S. Bench

Several Openings In Pennsylvania's Eastern District Should Give The GOP A Long-Term Influence On The Court's Makeup

By Kathleen Brady Shea and Tom Infield

27 November 2003
Copyright ©2003
The Philadelphia Inquirer. All rights reserved.

Chester County Court Judge Juan R. Sanchez, a native of Puerto Rico who grew up in a Bronx housing project, has been nominated by the White House for a seat on the federal bench.

The nomination is for one of up to five federal judgeships that may be filled in the coming months in Pennsylvania's Eastern District. The openings present Republicans with an opportunity to shape the judicial makeup of the court for years to come.

Sanchez, 47, would replace U.S. District Court Judge Jay C. Waldman in Pennsylvania's Eastern District. Waldman died of cancer in May.

"It is hard to put into words how I feel," Sanchez said yesterday, after receiving the news Tuesday evening. "This is a tremendous privilege and an honor; I am grateful for the President's nomination and for all the support I received during the process."

Sanchez's name was submitted to the White House with the backing of Pennsylvania's Republican leadership, including the party's organization in Chester County. He must now pass muster with the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will make a recommendation to the Senate, which votes on the selection.

Sanchez, known for his work ethic and passion for the law, said he did not expect the process to begin until January.

"I've absolutely no doubt that he will be confirmed quickly and smoothly," said Chester County Court Judge Robert J. Shenkin. "After all, when you look at him and his record, what's there not to like?"

Sanchez made national news in the summer when he ordered a West Chester man who spit at a police officer to read and prepare a book report on "To Kill a Mockingbird," which has a pivotal spitting sequence.

"Judge Sanchez can best be described as a dynamo," said President Judge Howard F. Riley Jr. "I don't know where he gets the time and energy to do all the projects he does, but he never does any of them halfheartedly; he'll be a huge loss."

U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner, the last Chester County judge to join the federal bench, in 1992, said he expected Sanchez to be confirmed easily.

"He's already cleared the biggest hurdles," Joyner said. "I think it's wonderful; Chester County needs added representation on the federal circuit, and Juan is an excellent jurist."

Sanchez is the third Philadelphia-area Republican nominated by Bush to the Eastern District court this month.

The nomination comes amid an unusually large number of openings and anticipated openings - as many as five - between now and early next year. The court currently has 19 active judges and 17 senior judges.

Taken together, the openings give the White House and its Pennsylvania GOP allies a chance to have a long-term influence on the makeup of the court.

On Nov. 3, Bush nominated Gene E.K. Pratter, a partner in Duane Morris L.L.P., a major national law firm based in Philadelphia. Pratter, of Bryn Mawr, would fill a spot that was more or less allotted to the GOP in Montgomery County. Pratter and her husband, Robert, have been election-campaign donors to Bush, Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum, and the Republican National Committee.

On Nov. 6, Bush nominated Lancaster County Common Pleas Court Judge Lawrence F. Stengel, 51, to replace another judge from the county on the federal bench.

Presidents traditionally have acceded to in-state political forces when nominating federal court judges. The rule of thumb in Pennsylvania has long been that the party holding the White House gets three nominations for every one given to the party that is out of power.

A state's U.S. senators typically play a lead role in selecting the nominees. In Pennsylvania, Republicans Specter and Santorum have more or less agreed to split the state, east and west. Santorum, who is from Pittsburgh, has the larger influence in selection of nominees from the western part of the state. Specter tends to hold sway in the east.

A judicial nominating panel, which interviewed candidates for the Eastern District slots on behalf of Specter and Santorum, is chaired by Thomas R. Kline, law partner of Specter's son, Shanin.

"Political leaders also have their favorites who they put forward," said Alan P. Novak, Pennsylvania Republican chairman.

In Chester County, GOP leaders have been pushing for one of their own to step up to the bench.

Novak, former Chester County Republican chairman, said Sanchez was long his choice, along with that of current Chairman Joseph E. "Skip" Brion and former Chairman William Lamb. Lamb is currently on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and is barred from participating in partisan politics.

"We all sang from the same hymnal on this one," Novak said. "If Chester County was going to get a judgeship, we wanted that to be Judge Sanchez.

"Judge Sanchez had to make his own case to the senators, to the White House, and through the interview process," he said. "The candidates still have to stand on their own two feet."

Novak said that because Sanchez was an assistant public defender, "everyone assumes he is a moderate."

"But I think people, when they look at him as a judge, consider him as fairly conservative," Novak said. "I think he is a tough judge when it comes to law-and-order issues."

It may be in Specter's interest to have judicial nominees whom he supports to be regarded as political conservatives.

Specter, who is running for reelection next year, faces a party opponent, U.S. Rep. Patrick Toomey, who has criticized him as too liberal for the state GOP.

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