The agreement struck between Senate Democrats and President Bush that guarantees dozens of GOP judicial nominees a seat on the federal courts has all the signs of a victory for both sides, officials said.
Republicans get to swell the conservative ranks on the federal court in an election year, something that rarely happens, while Democrats get a guarantee that the most objectionable GOP nominees to them won’t get a lifetime or even a temporary seat on the federal trial or appeals courts.
“It’s, on balance, not a bad deal,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
After working behind closed doors for weeks, the White House and Senate Democrats announced Tuesday that Democrats will allow votes on 25 noncontroversial appointments to the district and appeals courts that they’ve been holding up for months.
In exchange, Bush agreed not to invoke his constitutional power to make recess appointments while Congress is away, as he has done twice in recent months with judicial nominees.
The deal lasts until a second Bush presidency begins or a new president takes office, officials said. The agreement was struck days before the Senate began its Memorial Day recess, in a meeting among top Senate Democrats and Republicans as well as Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff.
“The president believes it is important to fill judicial vacancies in a timely manner, and this agreement is an important step in meeting that objective,” White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said.
Bush already trumped Senate Democrats by placing two Republicans on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Charles Pickering, a former chairman of the Mississippi Republican party and father of GOP Rep. Chip Pickering, and William Pryor, the former attorney general of Alabama.
Democrats were furious, and they’ve been holding up all judicial nominees since March to get this promise.
The White House made the right move, said Senate Minority leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. “I think they feel that it’s more important to make progress than to hold out some possibility of another recess appointment, and they made the right decision,” he told reporters.
While not pleased, Republican senators agreed it made sense.
“As a practical matter the likelihood of a recess appointment between now and Nov. 2 is very small, so I suggest to you that he’s not really giving up a lot in exchange for an up-or-down vote on 25 judges,” Cornyn said.
The Senate immediately confirmed one of the nominees — Marcia Cooke, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s former chief inspector general — to be a federal trial judge in Florida.
After the 25th judge is confirmed, the Senate will have put 198 of Bush’s nominees on the federal trial and appeals courts, senators said.
Democrats have used the threat of a filibuster to block Senate confirmation of six U.S. Appeals Court nominees: Pickering, Pryor, Texas judge Priscilla Owen, Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada and California judges Carolyn Kuhl and Janice Rogers Brown.
Estrada has withdrawn his nomination, and two others, Idaho lawyer William Myers and Defense Department lawyer William Haynes, have not received votes in the Senate.
Several others are stuck at committee level.
It takes 60 senators to force a confirmation vote in the Senate, which is split with 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent, Jim Jeffords of Vermont.
Owen, Kuhl, Brown and other judicial nominees Democrats found objectionable are not part of the impending deal. The fight over those nominations will continue.
“We will try to support as many judges who are mainstream as we can but we will continue to fight those on the radical fringe,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.