WASHINGTON – Republicans and Democrats alike claimed victory as the Senate completed an unprecedented run of long-delayed appeals court confirmations and looked ahead to a possible Supreme Court nomination this summer.
Republicans say the confirmations of long-filibustered judges William Pryor (search), Janice Rogers Brown (search), Priscilla Owen (search), David McKeague (search) and Richard Griffin (search) for the U.S. Appeals Court show that President Bush can get conservatives on the nation's highest courts despite the objections of Democrats.
And it can happen without Republicans voting to eliminate judicial filibusters, a move known as the "nuclear option (search)" because of the intense rancor it would cause.
"Now that the filibuster tiger has been put back in its cage, the nuclear option has been put back in its cage," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
Democrats say the Republican failure to eliminate the judicial filibusters (search) shows they can stop ultraconservative judges from being rammed through the Senate and onto the Supreme Court — even though they had to let those five nominees through to the second highest court in the judicial system.
"These judges were bitter medicine, but I believe the Senate and our caucus is better for it," said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat. "We preserved the right of extended debate and filibuster, and when and if a Supreme Court vacancy occurs, we have preserved our rights, if a controversial person is named, to exercise our traditional authorities in the Senate."
The GOP-controlled Senate wrapped up its push to clear the blocked judges on Thursday with the confirmation of Pryor, McKeague and Griffin, the last controversial appeals court nominations the chamber plans to handle for a while.
With a vote of 53-45, Pryor was approved for 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Atlanta-based court that handles federal appeals from Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Griffin was confirmed 95-0 and McKeague 96-0, both for seats on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
Bush gave Pryor a recess appointment in February 2004 after Democrats filibustered his confirmation. That appointment would have ended this year if Pryor had not been confirmed. Bush said Pryor's service on the 11th Circuit built on a judicial career in which he "has applied the law fairly and impartially to all people."
Pryor, 43, watched the vote over the Internet in his office in Birmingham, Ala. "What a day," he said. "We even managed to get an opinion out."
Pryor, Brown and Owen all had been waiting at least two years for Senate confirmation. Democrats have blocked the nominations of judges they consider too conservative.
Democrats had blocked Griffin and McKeague because Michigan's senators were upset at Republicans for refusing to confirm President Clinton's nominees to that court. While the two were not part of the filibuster deal, Democrats decided to allow them through as a gesture of good will.
The deadlocks over the nominations of Pryor, Brown and Owen ended under last month's historic deal on judicial filibusters. Crafted by Senate centrists, it avoided a partisan showdown over blocking the White House's judicial nominees.