WASHINGTON – Democrats are now working on a plan to stall the confirmation of judicial nominees after President Bush decided to send back to the Senate the previously failed nomination of District Judge Charles Pickering Sr.
Pickering was rejected last March for a seat on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals by a Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the now-ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired the hearing that led to Pickering's rejection, and was among the most troubled to see Pickering's name back on a list of 30 nominees sent to the Senate majority leader last week.
"We've already had a long very divisive hearing on that and he was voted down. A lot of Republicans tell me privately that they wish the president had not sent Judge Pickering back up. But the president has the right to do it," Leahy said.
The president was encouraged by the GOP takeover of the Senate to resend Pickering, thinking that there was a much greater likelihood that his nomination could be approved. For instance, in charge of the Senate committee now is Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who spoke in defense of Pickering, who has been accused of racial insensitivity for controversial race-related cases in the U.S. District Court in Hattiesburg, Miss.
But now, Democrats are formulating a plan to slow the process for considering Bush judicial nominees to a standstill.
Fox News has obtained an internal memo from Judiciary Democrats to Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. The memo urges Daschle to request that Bush judicial nominees not be considered until American Bar Association reviews are complete, reviews that Bush said he would not use when considering nominations, breaking a 50-year tradition.
Among the other suggestions, Democrats said that only one controversial nominee should be considered at each hearing; that one circuit court nominee be considered per hearing; that hearings take place only every three or four weeks; and that the blue slip policy — which allows any senators to hold up certain nominations — remain in effect.
That last policy has critics concerned that any individual senator is being granted too much power in the advise and consent process.
"Some senators will argue that not only is it a 50-50 equation, but they are the absolute final determinate. They select the judge, they advise the White House on who that judge should be, and if the White House doesn't agree with it, they have the power to kill that nomination," said Manus Cooney, former chief counsel and staff director of the Judiciary Committee.
Leahy downplayed the importance of the memo's details, saying they will all come out in the wash.
"These are housekeeping things. I think Sen. Hatch and I, if left to ourselves, will work most things out," Leahy said.
But in the past Hatch and Leahy have not seen eye to eye over how the committee should be run. Last May, the two got into a verbal squall that took place in front of the news cameras.
Given this history — the squabbling, the bad blood, the blue slip policy that allows any one senator to shut the place down — no one is betting that the president will have an easier time getting his nominees passed through this Senate, despite Republican control.
Fox News' Brian Wilson contributed to this report.