CHICAGO – Conservatives and liberals are carefully watching the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, which is the court with the most vacancies in the nation that is tasked with deciding some of the most important and politically charged cases this year.
Six new seats need to be filled on the court as it grapples with a full plate ranging from an Ohio case on the legality of partial birth abortion, which the Justice Department supported in legal briefs, to the posting of the Ten Commandments in government buildings in Kentucky and Ohio.
When President Bush introduced his first judicial nominees nearly two years ago, he noted that his candidates were chosen with care.
"A federal judge holds a position of great influence and respect and can hold it for a lifetime," he said at the time.
Despite the Democratic filibuster of one of those nominees — appeals court candidate Miguel Estrada — and the rejection of two other Bush nominees now up for reconsideration, the president is in a position to leave a more conservative legacy with the nation's federal courts. For the first time in decades, a Republican president has a Republican majority in the Senate voting on judicial nominees.
"Given the vacancies, and given the fact that the president does have an opportunity to fill those vacancies and with a unified government to fill them, I think you’ll see a shift in the ideology of the court," Joe Tomain, Dean of Law, University of Cincinnati, said of the 6th Circuit.
Legal analysts say that even a subtle ideological shift in the 6th Circuit could have significant implications because the court is ruling on a politically charged caseload.
Phil Burress, an Ohio conservative activist, said given the importance of the rulings, it's imperative that the court be seated with judges who won't overreach their authority.
"We want judges appointed who are going to interpret the law," said Burress, of the group Citizens for Community Values. "We don’t need judicial activism. We’re seeing far too much of it from the Supreme Court all the way down to the lower courts."
But those on the left worry the president's nominees will interpret the law in a way that undercuts individual rights.
"Their records demonstrate a sympathy with big business at the expense of workers, environmentalists, women and people of color," Nan Aron, of Alliance for Justice, said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has already approved the nominations of two of the current candidates for 6th Circuit vacancies: Deborah Cook and Jeffrey Sutton of Ohio. The Senate is preparing to vote on them as early as this week.
Republicans say Senate Democrats are slowing votes on some of the other 6th Circuit candidates along with other judicial nominees nationwide to try and prevent the president from filling the bench with conservatives.
"We have to fill these positions," said Burress. "Justice delayed is justice denied and that’s what’s happening here."
But Democrats argue that unless these candidates are thoroughly reviewed, there will be no justice.
Fox News' Jeff Goldblatt contributed to this report.