WASHINGTON – Another controversial Bush nominee passed a preliminary test Thursday, getting approval on a party-line vote from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown (search) now awaits her fate in the full Senate, where Democrats have already put the brakes on four of President Bush's nominees for the bench.
Brown, who has been lauded by Republicans as a great candidate for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, has been targeted by some African-American activists who say the conservative, black, female justice is not a good fit on the 12-member D.C. court because of her temperament on the bench and inadequate qualifications.
"She was rated 'not qualified' by the California Bar Judicial Nomination evaluation commission," said Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (search), who was joined by leaders from other black rights groups Wednseday on Capitol Hill.
Bond said President Bush is nominating Brown to make him look sympathetic to minorities, even though the African-American candidate is completely unacceptable.
"Judicial selection should be based on principle, not on pigment. The president cheapens the process when he substitutes race for rationality or color for capability," Bond said.
But the White House continued to back its candidate, repeating again on Wednesday that Brown is ably qualified for the federal bench, primarily because she is not a judicial activist.
"Judge Brown has received strong support in her own state of California for her leadership and for her record, for not interpreting the law and not making law," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. "She has enjoyed broad support because of her record on the bench."
The 54-year-old Brown was born in segregated Alabama, the daughter of sharecroppers. She has served on the California Supreme Court (search) for nearly eight years, and was re-elected in 1998 with 76 percent of the vote.
On Tuesday, black conservatives appeared on Capitol Hill with Republican lawmakers who say Brown's nomination is not one about qualifications, but about the struggle black conservatives face in America.
"I can remember a time when we as a people worked long and hard to try to make the point that all African-Americans do not look alike," said former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson (search). "We need to work just as hard to make certain that all African-Americans do not think alike."
"The politics of tyranny and the politics of 'you must play ball' has not changed all that much," said Niger Innis, spokesman for the Congress for Racial Equality (search). "[Left-leaning black activists] are punishing Justice Brown because she doesn't think the way they believe she should think."
Republicans have not called opponents of Brown racists, but they do accuse Democrats of acting as thought police.
"In this administration, the Democrats are claiming that anybody who is conservative, who is a person of color, who is pro-life, is outside of the mainstream of American jurisprudence and that's pure unmitigated bunk," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Democrats dismiss charges of racism as well as the use of ideological litmus tests.
"I am becoming more and more amused. We're either anti-Catholic, anti-Hispanic, now anti-African-American," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
"It seems to me that when they get anyone that is so far out of the ideological mainstream, they start screaming that somehow we've got ulterior motives," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee's ranking Democrat.
Leahy said the D.C. court reviews the government's most important regulatory cases, and Brown's record on civil rights and labor cases disqualifies her from the seat.
Brown could soon join four other Bush court nominees able to win confirmation but denied an up or down vote in the full Senate. Attorney Miguel Estrada (search), Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen (search), Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor (search) and Mississippi judge Charles Pickering (search) have all been sidelined by procedural tactics employed by Democrats to prevent a straight-line majority vote on the candidates.
In an effort to prevent Brown's fate from following President Bush's other nominees, one conservative group, the Committee for Justice (search), is taking to the airwaves to extol Brown's virtues.
The group appears to have two objectives in mind. The ad is airing in South Carolina, the only primary state where Democratic presidential candidate and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards is polling ahead of his competition.
The ad, which includes the line 'Shame on you Senator Edwards — put qualifications before politics,' could put a dent in Edwards' black support in South Carolina. Edwards is on the Senate Judiciary Committee panel voting on Brown's nomination.
Fox News' Major Garrett and Greg Kelly contributed to this report.