WASHINGTON – The Senate on Tuesday confirmed one of its former lawyers, Thomas B. Griffith (search), to sit on the U.S. Appeals Court, the sixth judge it has elevated to the federal appellate court in the last month.
With a 73-24 vote, Griffith becomes the newest judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia (search), taking a seat that the Bush administration originally wanted for filibustered Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada.
Estrada dropped out in September 2003 after being blocked by Democrats and President Bush (search) replaced him in June 2004 with Griffith, who was the chamber's general counsel during President Clinton's impeachment before joining Brigham Young University as general counsel in 2003.
Former Judiciary chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called Griffith "an excellent nominee for this extremely important federal court."
"As Senate legal counsel he impressed many in this body for being hard-working, fair-minded and honest. I am aware of no one who believes he carried out his responsibility as senate legal counsel in a partisan manner," Hatch said.
Democrats have opposed Griffith, although Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada offered to bring his nomination up for a vote during the chamber's deadlock over whether to ban the judicial filibuster.
Republicans refused and pushed ahead for a vote on Bush's blocked nominees. But that showdown was averted after seven Democrats and seven Republicans signed a pact pledging not to filibuster judicial nominees except in extraordinary circumstances. At the same time, they agreed to oppose attempts by GOP leaders to change filibuster procedures.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Judiciary Democrat, said Griffith's refusal to get a Utah law license should have disqualifed him from the court.
Griffith said he doesn't have a Utah law license because he never thought he needed it for his job as lawyer for Brigham Young University. He also took the blame for losing his D.C. law license by not paying bar association dues. He got the license back by paying what he owed.
"Mr. Griffith has foregone at least 10 opportunities to take the bar in Utah, and has continued to refuse to do so during the pendency of his nomination. In this regard he appears to think he is above the law," Leahy said.
"That is not the kind of person who should be entrusted with a lifetime appointment to a federal court and, least of all, to such an important court as the D.C. Circuit, which is entrusted with protecting the rights of all Americans. This is the wrong nomination for this court."