President Clinton yesterday accused the Republican-controlled Congress of the "worst partisan politics," accusing members of stalling dozens of his nominations to the federal bench.
In his weekly radio address, Mr. Clinton noted that nearly 100 judicial slots nationwide are empty. "This year I've already sent 70 nominations to Congress, but so far they've acted on less than 20 . . . we can't let partisan politics shut down our courts and gut our judicial system," he said.
But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, vehemently denied in a telephone interview that Mr. Clinton has forwarded 70 judicial nominations this year.
"There are 96 current vacancies" on the federal bench, "and a total of 52 nominations are pending," he said.
The president has submitted no nominations for the remaining 44 judicial vacancies, Mr. Hatch added.
Of the 52 nominations pending, Mr. Hatch pointed out that 23 are renominations that Mr. Clinton failed to get through in the past.
"Many of those have real problems," the chairman said, either because of concerns about their qualifications or because they are viewed as judicial activists, meaning they try to make law rather than interpret the Constitution.
The president addressed the latter issue in his remarks yesterday. "Under the pretense of preventing so-called judicial activism, they've taken aim at the very independence our Founders sought to protect," he said, adding:
"Today I call upon the Senate to fulfill its constitutional duty to fill these vacancies. The intimidation, the delay, the shrill voices must stop so the unbroken legacy of our strong, independent judiciary can continue for generations to come."
Mr. Clinton said Senate inaction is threatening the federal judicial system, which he said is being overwhelmed by a growing backlog of civil and criminal cases.
The result of inaction, he said, "is a vacancy crisis in our courts that Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist warned could undermine our courts' ability to fairly administer justice. …