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Frist calls for 100-hour cap on judicial debate

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist wouldn't budge Thursday on his demand that Democrats forgo filibusters against all of President Bush's past or present nominees to federal appellate court benches or the Supreme Court.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist refused to budge Thursday on his demand that Democrats forgo filibusters against all of President Bush’s past or present appeals court nominations.

“Throughout this debate, we have held firm to a simple principle, judicial nominees deserve up-or-down votes,” Frist said.

He offered to allow senators to retain the right to filibuster District Court nominees as part of an arrangement in which confirmation votes would be guaranteed on the nation’s highest judgeships after 100 hours of debate. The Senate’s top Republican also said that under his plan, senators would no longer be able to block nominees in the Judiciary Committee.

“Judicial nominees are being denied. Justice is being denied. The solution is simple, allow senators to do their jobs and vote,” Frist said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said he would look at Frist’s offer, but wasn’t all that charitable in his description. “It’s a big wet kiss to the far right,” he said.

Reid said that Frist’s offer would mean that Democrats would lose their ability to block Bush nominees, a condition he is not willing to accept. “After 100 hours the rights of the minority are extinguished,” he responded in a corresponding Senate speech. “This has never been about the lengths of the debate. This is about checks and balances.”

Time limits on judicial considerations?
Frist suggested in a Thursday letter to Reid that he would be willing to set time limits on committee consideration of nominees, a proposal that Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., made last year before taking over the Judiciary Committee chairmanship.

Specter suggested that the committee be forced to hold a confirmation hearing within a month of a nomination. The panel Committee would then be forced to hold a confirmation vote within two months of the hearing. The Senate would be forced to start debating the nomination within two months of committee vote, and a final confirmation vote would happen within 30 days.

“I believe (it) is a worthy model to discuss as it applies to Circuit Court and Supreme Court nominees,” Frist said in the letter.

One of Democrats’ biggest complaints has been that more than 60 of President Clinton’s nominees were bottled up in committee, leaving positions available for Bush to fill.

“Whether on the floor or in committee, judicial obstruction is judicial obstruction,” Frist said. “It’s time for judicial obstruction to end no matter which party controls the White House or the Senate.”

Liberal groups almost universally panned Frist’s offer, while conservatives said it was a good deal.

Frist’s proposal is “a rational compromise that is more than fair to both Republicans and Democrats,” said Wendy Long, lawyer for the Judicial Confirmation Network.

But Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, called Frist’s compromise “political posturing to give cover for an unprincipled and unprecedented plot to break Senate rules.”

Democrats assertive
Democrats have blocked 10 of Bush’s appellate court choices through filibuster threats, which means those nominees would have to get 60 votes in the 100-member Senate before they could be confirmed. Democrats have threatened to block again the seven that Bush renominated this year, as well as future ones they consider outside the mainstream of legal thinking.

Republicans in turn have threatened to use their majority to change senatorial rules to require a simple majority vote for confirmation, in part because they fear a Democratic blockade could affect a Supreme Court vacancy if a high court seat opens in Bush’s second term.

Frist has long said he would make a public offer to Democrats to try and resolve the filibuster problem before seeking a change in Senate rules.

Reid floats his own compromise
Reid made his own compromise offer earlier in the week. It included allowing confirmation for three nominees — Michigan nominees Richard Griffin, David McKeague and Susan Neilson — plus one of the four most controversial nominees: Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, William Myers and William Pryor.

The others would be dropped.

Frist said previously that he would not accept any offer that lets Democrats filibuster past or future judicial nominees. And Reid said he would not accept any deal that keeps Democrats from blocking future nominees.

Specter wanted to advance Pryor’s nomination out of the Judiciary Committee on Thursday, but the vote was called off after Democrats invoked a procedural rule.