Magazine article Insight on the News

Leahy Presides over Judicial-Vacancy Crisis. (Fair Comment)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Leahy Presides over Judicial-Vacancy Crisis. (Fair Comment)

Article excerpt

On April 25, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat, finally permitted a hearing for one nominee to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That's a start, but it's not nearly enough.

The 6th Circuit has a real vacancy crisis. Eight of its 16 judgeships are vacant, despite President George W. Bush having nominated seven individuals to fill those vacancies. Two of those nominees, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Deborah Cook and former Ohio solicitor general Jeffrey Sutton, have been waiting 357 days just to receive a hearing. Three others have waited since Nov. 8, and a fourth has been waiting since Dec. 19.

There's simply no justification for Leahy having taken so many months to do anything about this half-empty court. He's certainly not stalling because of questions about the nominees' qualifications. Their American Bar Association reviews--what Leahy calls "the gold standard by which judicial candidates are judged"--rate them either as "qualified" or "well-qualified."

For most of them, it isn't a question of home-state senator support, either. The Ohio and Kentucky nominees--as well as the Tennessee nominee who finally received a hearing--all have the backing of their home-state senators.

Leahy's blockade really is about two things: payback from Michigan's senators and the Democrats' political litmus test. In a letter written to Leahy last August, Michigan Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow asked that the Judiciary Committee chairman refuse to act on all of Bush's nominations to the 6th Circuit until two former Clinton nominees have their situations "resolved" They've insisted that Bush renominate and the Senate confirm Helene White--Levin's cousin-in-law--and Kathleen McCree-Lewis, neither of whom were confirmed when they actually were nominees.

"Fairness demands that these two women be granted expeditious consideration by the White House and Senate," the Michigan senators wrote to Leahy. "We urge you to determine who held up their nominations in prior years."

The Levin-Stabenow position is interesting, given that Bush actually did renominate two unconfirmed Clinton nominees, one when he nominated Cook and Sutton nearly a year ago and another in January. …

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