Published May 09, 2005
WASHINGTON – Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (search) on Monday offered the Democrats' support for one of President Bush's judicial nominees, former Senate lawyer Thomas Griffith (search), as a goodwill gesture in the confrontation over banning judicial filibusters.
"Let's take a step away from the precipice," Reid said. "Let's try cooperation, rather than confrontation, which seems to be the hallmark of what we've been doing here lately."
The offer came as President Bush and Senate Republicans renewed their pressure on Democrats to stop blocking some of his judicial nominees, four years to the day that the White House unveiled its first judicial picks.
"Each deserved a simple up-or-down vote by the entire Senate," Bush said in a statement, pointing out that two of his first nominees from 2001 — Texas judge Priscilla Owen (search) and North Carolina judge Terrence Boyle (search) — have yet to be approved by the Senate.
Griffith replaced a third, Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada (search), who withdrew his nomination for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia after Democrats filibustered his nomination for two years.
Griffith was the Senate's general counsel during President Clinton's impeachment and became Brigham Young University's general counsel in 2003.
Democrats are hoping Reid's offer will help persuade the dozen or so undecided Republicans that they should not support Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's call to ban judicial filibusters.
"We know the difference between opposing nominees and blocking nominees. We will oppose bad nominees, but we will only block unacceptable nominees," Reid said.
Frist says all of Bush's nominees should get confirmation votes, not just one.
"This is a first step but there are seven other highly qualified nominees who have been filibustered in the 108th Congress who deserve an up-or-down vote as well," he said. "I remain committed to this fundamental principle and the return to 214 years of Senate tradition."
U.S. Appeals Judge William Pryor — who got a recess appointment from Bush after Democrats blocked his confirmation — and Boyle are expected to get committee votes later this week. But Republicans spent most of the day talking up Owen's nomination.
Owen is one of seven Bush nominees being filibustered by Democrats, while Boyle was blocked in committee by objections from former Democratic Sen. John Edwards in retaliation for similar actions by former GOP Sen. Jesse Helms.
Frist, R-Tenn., is considering an effort to ban judicial filibusters to stop Democrats from blocking those judges and a Supreme Court nomination if a vacancy comes open during the Bush presidency.
"All judicial nominees deserve an up-or-down vote. It's a matter of fairness," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a news conference at the Justice Department. Gonzales was involved with judicial nominations in his job as White House counsel during Bush's first term.
Democrats have blocked 10 of Bush's appellate court choices through filibuster threats, which means those nominees would have to get 60 votes in the 100-member Senate instead of a simple majority. Democrats have threatened to block again the seven whom Bush renominated this year, as well as future ones they consider outside the mainstream of legal thinking.
Republicans in turn have threatened to use their majority to change senatorial rules later this month to require a simple majority vote for confirmation.
Frist and Reid have rejected previous compromise offers, with Frist insisting on confirmation votes on all judicial nominees and Reid insisting on Democrats keeping their ability to block Bush nominees.