Panel Dems Sit Out Vote on Bush Nominee

Eight Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans attended Thursday's session to vote on the appeals court nomination of Thomas Griffith (search) to the D.C. Circuit. No committee Democrats showed up.

Without a quorum, committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (search), R-Pa., canceled the proceedings. The committee needed 10 senators to vote on Griffith, who faced the panel in March for his nomination hearing.

"Out of deference to our colleagues who are absent here today, we will not take the time of so many other senators here who have so many other pressing items and we will terminate our session here today," Specter said in the opening minutes of the hearing.

Four of the eight missing Democrats, including Sens. Patrick Leahy (search) of Vermont and Edward Kennedy (search) of Massachusetts, are part of the congressional delegation attending the funeral of Pope John Paul II. The other four committee Democrats could have attended the session but did not. Action on the nominee was delayed until next week.

"There's important business of this committee to be conducted and for those who aren't in Rome, they could have been here," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

Aides said Senate Democrats were not going to conduct their first debate and vote on a judicial nominee with their most senior committee members in Rome. Leahy is the ranking Democrat on the panel.

The Judiciary Committee schedule looms large in the ongoing confrontation over President Bush's nominees previously blocked by Democratic filibusters.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist wants six nominees previously blocked by Democratic filibusters ready for a full Senate vote by the end of April. Among those six are Janice Rogers Brown (search) for the Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit and Priscilla Owen (search) for the 5th Circuit. A former Senate Democrat who tried to negotiate an end to judicial filibusters in the last Congress said party activists refuse to compromise.

"The liberal, left-leaning interest groups that are right now calling the shots as far as the Senate leadership is concerned will not allow it. They do not want to vote up or down on these nominees," said Zell Miller, who appeared at the Republican National Convention last year.

Sources told FOX News that Senate GOP leaders intend to use the nominations of Brown or Owen as the vehicle for changing Senate rules to end judicial filibusters (search). That move, the sources said, is unlikely to occur until early May.

Democrats again vowed to stop all Senate action if Republicans forbid judicial filibusters.

"We're defending the checks and balances. We're not letting people change rules in the middle of the game. So, I think we're in for the long haul on this," said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.