Senate Republicans Wednesday singled out Michigan's two senators for their "abuse" of the so-called "blue-slip" policy that allows senators from a nominee's home state to block nominations if they object to the candidates.
Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow have negatively filled out blue slips, the blue-colored papers on which senators submit their approvals or denials of nominees. The negative blue slip means the Senate Judiciary Committee can't hold a hearing on President Bush's judicial choices for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"The last time I looked at the Constitution, the president appoints nominees. If the senators from Michigan are able to make appointments ... then why not the senator from Kentucky?" Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., rhetorically asked.
According to historical precedent, without the judiciary panel's approval, the nominees can't be considered by the full Senate. But the Republican leader said that won't be the case this time.
"If the committee will not act on these nominees ... the majority of the Senate will," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
Frist said that if the Senate Judiciary Committee continues to be blocked by the blue slips, he will employ the use of a discharge petition signed by a majority of senators to move those nominees around the committee and bring them straight to the floor.
Levin and Stabenow have put blue slips on David McKeague, Susan Neilson, Henry Saad and Richard Griffin, the four judicial nominees vying for seats on the federal bench that adjudicates cases for Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Wednesday that if the Michigan senators have objections, they must have a good reason.
"Who better knows their states than the senators representing their state? And if both senators have said that, for whatever reason, that the nominee for a particular court is unacceptable, I think that ought to have some merit, some weight, some consideration," Daschle said.
Democrats add that what they are doing is no different than Republican posturing during the Clinton administration, when on at least 60 different occasions, Republicans used blue slips to hold up Clinton nominees, preventing them from getting hearings or being appointed to various courts on which former President Clinton wanted to appoint them.
Republicans call that old history, and say that in the here and now, Democrats have done everything they can to deprive Bush of seeing his nominees seated, including filibustering two other appellate court nominees.
Democrats counter that when Bush came into office, the 6th Circuit Court had eight vacancies. It now has only four, and that's not a bad record of confirmation.
Bush has had 132 of his 342 U.S. District and Appeals court nominees confirmed by the Senate since taking office in 2001.
Democrats are filibustering two U.S. Appeals Court nominees, Miguel Estrada and Priscilla Owen, and have threatened to use that tactic against others, including Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, up for a seat on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals based in Atlanta.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to hold a hearing next week on Pryor, who is vehemently opposed by Democrats and liberal groups who say he is homophobic. Pryor compared homosexual acts to "prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography and even incest and pedophilia" in a brief he filed with the Supreme Court earlier this year.
However, Republicans hold a one-seat committee advantage and will likely use that edge to get Pryor voted out of committee.
Fox News' Major Garrett and Julie Asher contributed to this report.