WASHINGTON – President Bush's nomination of White House aide Brett Kavanaugh to a federal appeals court judgeship moved a step closer to confirmation Thursday even as Democrats raised objections to two other judicial picks.
After Democrats cleared the way, the Judiciary Committee approved Kavanaugh in a 10-8, party-line vote, and the Democrats moved on to questions about the other nominees' conflicts and qualifications.
"They'd be an embarrassment to even be debated on the floor," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., referring to the nominations of Terrence Boyle to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and Michael Wallace to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The White House showed no sign of withdrawing either nomination.
The Kavanaugh vote came after Democrats stepped out of the way for the first time since Bush nominated his staff secretary to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia two years ago.
Republicans touted Kavanaugh's Ivy League credentials and said he was candid this week during a rare second hearing in which he told the panel he played no role in the administration's policies on detainees or wiretapping.
While they may not filibuster Kavanaugh's nomination, Democrats nonetheless complained that Bush's choice of a key aid for a lifetime appointment is evidence of a process that has become too political. They pointed at Kavanaugh's downgraded assessment by the American Bar Association as proof that he is unqualified for the post.
"Mr. Kavanaugh himself is neither seasoned enough nor independent enough at this early stage of his career to merit a lifetime appointment to the second-highest court in the land," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Republicans brushed off the objections as partisan.
"This is a clear case of much ado about nothing," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. As for Kavanaugh's service to the Bush administration, Hatch added: "It is not bad for an attorney to represent people with whom we disagree."
But even as Kavanaugh's nomination was sent toward the Senate floor, Democrats mobilized against two more of Bush's picks whose nominations appeared in trouble.
Boyle has drawn almost no defense, even from Republicans, since a report in Salon.com alleged that he ruled in a case against General Electric after having bought stock in the company.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter and other Republican members of the panel interviewed in recent days have declined to voice support for Boyle's nomination, saying they wanted to know more about it.
The criticism has mounted this week with Democratic calls for Bush to withdraw Boyle's nomination. On Wednesday, Republican members of the so-called "gang of 14" senators, which has mediated fights over judicial candidates, said they were concerned about the conflict of interest charges.
"I think it warrants a second hearing, and potentially could be disqualifying," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
The White House showed no sign of withdrawing Boyle's nomination.
"Boyle deserves an up or down vote on the Senate floor," said Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino.
Wallace's nomination received a blow this week when the American Bar Association on Wednesday unanimously rated him "not qualified."
Majority Leader Bill Frist wants a Senate vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation before Congress breaks May 25 for a weeklong Memorial Day vacation.
Democrats appear to have backed away from a threat to filibuster Kavanaugh, but still question whether Kavanaugh, 41, is seasoned and objective enough to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Democrats haven't embraced any filibusters since a year ago when the gang of 14 senators — seven Republicans and seven Democrats — mediated a standoff after Frist threatened to disallow judicial filibusters if Democrats kept using them against Bush's nominees.
The ABA strengthened the Democrats' case this week when its peer-review panel downgraded Kavanaugh's rating from "well qualified" to "qualified" after new interviews with his associates revealed concerns about his courtroom experience and temperament.
Conservative groups have demanded that Senate Republicans again start moving some of Bush's more controversial court nominations as a way to energize the party's base going into the midterm elections.
Kavanaugh was nominated for the appeals court seat in July 2003. He was questioned extensively Tuesday at a rare second confirmation hearing in which Democrats said he lacks the courtroom experience and temperament to be a federal appeals court judge.
In response to questions, he denied any involvement as Bush's staff secretary in a roster of controversial issues, including the administration's policy on torture of terrorism detainees and its secretive wiretapping program of domestic calls connected to suspected terrorist contacts abroad.