WASHINGTON – The Senate approved Pennsylvania Judge D. Brooks Smith's promotion to the U.S. Appeals Court Wednesday, despite some Democratic complaints that he didn't deserve to be elevated to the nation's second highest court.
The Senate voted 64-35 on the nomination, the closest vote on one of President Bush's U.S. Appeals Court nominees so far.
Smith has been opposed by many Democrats and special interest groups since his nomination by President Bush to sit on the Philadelphia-based appeals court covering Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware ands.
"His record as a whole calls into questions his sensitivity, his fairness, his impartiality and his judgment," Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Wednesday.
But his Pennsylvania patrons defended his work and his reputation.
"His reputation is excellent," said GOP Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. "I have known him for the last 14 years and can personally attest to his integrity and his qualifications."
Smith got three Democratic votes to be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and only needed two to get out of the Senate. The Senate has 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent.
Specter and Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., on Tuesday called for Democrats to let Smith through. "Based upon my personal knowledge of Judge Smith and his outstanding record ... he will be a credit to the Court of Appeals," Specter said.
Added Santorum: "He is someone of just paramount integrity, someone who is obviously academically qualified and having been confirmed already here as a federal judge some 13 years ago, he has impeccable credentials academically and professionally prior to being a judge."
Smith was named to the U.S. District Court in 1988 by President Reagan.
Some Democrats complained that Smith didn't deserve the promotion, saying he remained in an all-male sporting club 11 years after telling the Senate he would leave if the club didn't change its bylaws banning women.
"I do not want to give him the benefit of the doubt to mislead us again," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Smith said he tried to get the club to change its bylaws, and left after deciding it wasn't going to change.
Republicans defended Smith's decision, saying the courts had decided that it wasn't wrong for judges to belong to clubs like the one Smith belonged to.
Democrats also complained that he waited to remove himself from a case involving a bank where his wife was a vice president and questioned trips he accepted from organizations pursuing relaxed environmental regulations.
The Justice Department cleared Smith of any wrongdoing in the fraud case, and he testified that his rulings as a judge "were neither illegal nor unethical."
Smith said the trips, some to resort locations, were purely educational, but he promised not to accept any more that might pose an appearance problem. He said he was not aware at the outset of the fraud case that his wife's bank might be involved. When he determined that it was, he stepped aside, he testified during his confirmation hearing.
"He has done nothing but prove that his nomination for the 3rd Circuit is well-warranted," Santorum said.