WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans suffered a second loss Thursday in their push to confirm a contested judicial nominee when Democrats blocked a Texas Supreme Court justice picked by President Bush for a federal appeals court.
Democrats already have thwarted majority Republicans by stalling the nomination of Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada and now are also delaying a vote on Priscilla Owen.
"This obstructionist tactic is an injustice and unfair to this good woman and unfaithful to the Senate's own obligations," Bush said in a statement.
"Senate Democrats are now simultaneously filibustering two well-qualified nominees to the U.S. Courts of Appeals," Bush added. "The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to exercise its advice and consent function and hold up or down votes on all judicial nominees within a reasonable time after nomination."
Democrats contend Bush's nominees are too conservative and they say they have enough votes to bottle up the two nominees for months.
"History will look kindly on us for doing so," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., "because never has a president of the United States been more ideological in his selection of judges."
Republicans say Democrats are unfairly blocking them from letting Bush make judicial appointments, and that Owen and Estrada are more than qualified to be appeals court judges.
"I think there is a real problem in the Senate today, that two very qualified people have not had the opportunity to have a vote, even though a majority of senators have voted for them," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. "That is just not right."
Republicans could not get the 60 votes on Thursday they needed to break the filibuster on Owen, nominated for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The vote was 52-44.
"I'm sorry to say our Democratic colleagues chose the path of obstruction," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
Republicans say Democrats have misrepresented Owen's positions. Democrats complain that Owen is an anti-abortion, pro-business judicial activist whose opinions and rulings are overly influenced by her personal beliefs.
Democrats say the president forced them into the filibuster by sending her name back for confirmation after the Senate last year, with Democrats in control, rejected the nominee.
"We are here because the president has picked another fight with the United States Senate by renominating a divisive and controversial activist to another circuit court," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
By a 97-0 vote Thursday, the Senate did confirm U.S. District Judge Edward Prado of Texas for a seat on the 5th Circuit. Prado has served in Texas as a U.S. attorney, state district court judge, a public defender and a county prosecutor.
The GOP has failed four times to end the delay preventing a vote on Estrada, and planned to try again Monday evening.
Democrats say they are prepared to try even more filibusters. Democrats have threatened to stall the nomination of U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi to the 5th Circuit.
"I think Pickering will have a very rough time," Schumer said. "And I think they'll be more."
Another fight looming is over the nomination of J. Leon Holmes, a Little Rock, Ark., lawyer and former president of Arkansas Right to Life, for a U.S. District Court opening in his state.
Holmes' nomination was approved on a 10-9 party line by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday without a favorable recommendation. That has not happened to a district court nominee since 1951, Democrats said.
Democrats complained about Holmes' past writings. They cited a 1980 statement that rape victims rarely get pregnant and a 1997 column that explored the theological basis for religious teaching that a wife should subordinate herself to her husband.
Holmes blamed immaturity for his past statements on abortion but would not apologize for the column. He said he was troubled that his faith would come under such scrutiny, but also said as a judge he would respect abortion rights beliefs and would be able to follow the law.