TEXAS JUSTICE PRISCILLA OWEN
Dennis Cook  /  AP file
Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen is one of two Bush picks whose nominations to federal court were sent to the full Senate this week.
updated 4/22/2005 5:42:28 PM ET 2005-04-22T21:42:28

Vice President Dick Cheney said Friday he would vote in the Senate to stop filibusters of judicial nominees if given the chance. That means President Bush is breaking his word to stay out of the fight over Senate rules, Democratic leader Harry Reid responded.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., wants to change Senate rules by banning judicial filibusters — a tactic in which opponents can prevent a vote on a nomination with just 41 votes in the 100-member body. Minority Democrats have used the tactic to block confirmation votes on 10 of Bush’s appeals court choices.

Republicans hold 55 seats in the 100-member Senate, but a vote on changing the rules is expected to be close. Cheney would be able to vote only if there is a tie.

“Let me emphasize, the decision about how to proceed will be made by the Republican leadership in the Senate,” Cheney said in a speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association at the National Press Club. “But if the Senate majority decides to move forward and if the issue is presented to me in my elected office as president of the Senate and presiding officer, I will support bringing those nominations to the floor for an up-or-down vote.”

Move called 'raw abuse of power'
Reid said the White House was “shattering the checks and balances in our government in order to put radical judges on the bench.” The Nevada senator said Bush was making it clear he no longer wanted to work with Democrats.

“Last week, I met with the president and was encouraged when he told me he would not become involved in Republican efforts to break the Senate rules,” Reid said. “Now, it appears he was not being honest, and that the White House is encouraging this raw abuse of power.”

Cheney said a minority of senators are using the filibuster to, in effect, establish a 60-vote requirement for judicial confirmation “in an astounding departure from historical precedent.”

“There is no justification for allowing the blocking of nominees who are well qualified and broadly supported,” Cheney said. “The tactics of the last few years, I believe, are inexcusable, particularly when you are dealing with men and women of the caliber of those nominated by George W. Bush. By any standard of judicial merit, they are fully qualified to serve and by any standard of fairness, they deserve a vote in the United States Senate.”

Democrats say it is Cheney who is trying to reinvent Senate history by changing the filibuster rules.

“The White House has always wanted to reduce the Senate’s power and the fact that Vice President Cheney is encouraging this abuse of power should strengthen the Senate’s resolve to resist,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Supreme Court battle could be next
Cheney recognized in his audience one of the judges who has been filibustered, Charles Pickering of Mississippi. Bush used a recess appointment last year to install Pickering to an appeals court. Pickering announced in December that he would not seek the nomination for a permanent seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Republicans want to resolve the matter before a vacancy occurs on the Supreme Court because they worry that having to get support from 60 senators would affect who Bush picks for that seat. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, is fighting thyroid cancer.

The Family Research Council, a conservative organization, has arranged a rally for this weekend in Louisville, Ky., to build support for the GOP plan. It accuses Democrats of waging filibusters based on faith. Frist is scheduled to appear by videotape.

Democrats have condemned those attacks and countered that their opposition is based solely on the conservative views of the nominees.

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