WASHINGTON – Retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, two months shy of his 100th birthday, denounced Senate Democrats on Tuesday for not using his last appearance before the Judiciary Committee to consider his former staff aide's nomination to a federal appeals court.
"I took you at your word," Thurmond told Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who GOP senators said had promised that U.S. District Judge Dennis Shedd, a former Thurmond aide and former Judiciary Committee counsel, would get a vote in the committee. "In 48 years in the Senate, I have never been treated in such a manner."
Leahy delayed the Shedd vote, saying it was too contentious to get done quickly.
Thurmond's anger over the delay of Shedd's nomination to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., was echoed by Senate Republicans, who fear that Tuesday's voting session was the last of the legislative year. That would mean the rest of President Bush's nominees would be stuck in legislative limbo until a new Congress convenes next year.
Besides Shedd, one of those stranded would be Miguel Estrada, Bush's choice for the U.S. Appeals Court in the District of Columbia and a rumored choice for a Supreme Court seat if a vacancy should open.
"I hope that the Senate will change hands next year so we can correct some of these terrible injustices," Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., fumed.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., defended the work of the Democratic-led committee. "I defy anyone to come up with a better record," Daschle said.
Bush has nominated 126 U.S. Appeals Court and U.S. District Court nominees, and the Senate has confirmed 80: 14 judges to appeals courts and 66 to district courts.
The committee also has rejected two nominees, Texas Supreme Court Judge Priscilla Owen and U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi, denying them votes in the full Senate, and has not voted on Estrada and other controversial nominees.
The committee sent 17 district court nominees to the Senate for votes Tuesday. Leahy said those nominations would not have moved if they had started debating Shedd's nomination.
"We'd have an extended debate on Judge Shedd, not get a vote and not get a vote on anyone else either," Leahy said.
Republicans say they consider the refusal to vote on Shedd an insult to Thurmond, the oldest person ever to serve in Congress. Thurmond ends a 48-year career in the Senate in January, and Shedd's nomination is among the last outstanding pieces of business South Carolina's senior senator has left.
"It's his last request in the Senate," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said. "I don't believe we should treat Sen. Thurmond this way, and I don't believe we should treat this eminent judge this way."
Thurmond, along with Sens. Hatch and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, want to force Leahy to hold one more voting session to consider Shedd's nomination and that of University of Utah professor Michael McConnell to the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The senators insist Leahy promised votes this year on both judges.
When asked later whether he would consider having another voting session this year, Leahy said he didn't know.
Shedd, supported by both Thurmond and Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., has stirred up controversy in South Carolina with his rulings as a judge. Officials from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People say Shedd has shown a pattern of ruling against plaintiffs in civil rights cases. The Dale City, Va.-based Disabled Action Committee also has objected to Shedd's nomination, contending his opinions show a "disregard for laws protecting the disabled" and "a high level of insensitivity on issues of race."