Bush Re-Ignites Judge Fight

President Bush plans to re-nominate 20 individuals for federal judgeships despite their having been held up by the Senate Judiciary Committee in the president's first term, the White House announced Thursday.

Among the 20 candidates previously nominated who will go back in front of the Senate for confirmation are Priscilla R. Owen (search), Henry W. Saad (search), William H. Pryor (search) and Janice Rogers Brown (search), all of whom were in the center of angry partisan squabbles over their fitness to serve on the federal bench.

Sixteen of the nominees to be re-nominated were selected by the president more than one year ago. Two of the nominees named Thursday — Owen, who was chosen for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Terrence W. Boyle (search), who was picked to join the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals — were first announced as candidates on May 9, 2001.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the 20 named deserve an up or down vote.

"The Senate has a constitutional obligation to vote up or down on a president's judicial nominees and the president looks forward to working with the new Senate to ensure a well-functioning and independent judiciary," McClellan said in a written statement.

During the last Congress, Senate Democrats threw up roadblocks on many of the president's 34 nominees to the federal appeals court. Despite a GOP majority in the Senate, 10 nominees faced filibusters. The issue remains one of the most contentious in the Senate.

Democrats said they have no intention to back down from the fight in Bush's second term.

"The Bush administration is ending the year as they began it, choosing confrontation over compromise, ideology over moderation, and defiance over cooperation," said Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "On some of their controversial nominees, they may prevail because of their monopoly of power. The big loser, however, will be the independence of our judicial branch of government."

"In this opening shot, the White House is making it clear that they are not interested in bipartisanship when it comes to nominating judges. This is a sad day for America, because we have approved 204 out of 214 nominations and have only rejected the most extreme nominees," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also a member of the committee.

Included among those who were prevented from getting a confirmation vote was Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering (search). Last January, Bush gave Pickering a recess appointment to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which expired when Congress adjourned for the year. Two weeks ago, Pickering said he would not seek confirmation from the Senate again, saying that it was more trouble than it was worth.

"If they had given me an up or down vote, I would have been confirmed immediately," Pickering told FOX News. "You know, I stayed the course. I fought the battle. I would have to be re-nominated again, and I just think it would be better for the president to nominate someone younger."

Pickering said that he thought opposition to the president's nominees did cost Democratic lawmakers, especially Sen. Tom Daschle (search), the minority leader from South Dakota who was defeated by Republican John Thune.

"I think they — the American people — saw what the issue was concerning judges, so I think that those who opposed and obstructed paid a price for it," he said.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a staunch supporter of the president's nominees, said he was encouraged by the president's plans to re-nominate the candidates.

"I think the American people sent a strong message on November 2 against the obstructionist tactics that, unfortunately, we saw all too often in the past four years. I'm hopeful that the will of the American people has been made clear to the obstructionists and that these 20 nominees will receive swift up or down votes, as all judicial nominees deserve," said Cornyn, who served for three years with Owen on the Texas Supreme Court.

"The president has decided to re-nominate many highly qualified and capable individuals to serve as federal judges. I look forward to working with (committee chairman) Senator Specter, other Judiciary Committee members and my colleagues to ensure quick action and up and down votes on these judicial nominees," added Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Even with Republican gains in the Nov. 2 election, the GOP is still five votes shy of the 60 needed to overcome any filibuster attempts. And not all the federal court nominees named last term are back again.

Besides Pickering, three others denied a confirmation vote on the Senate floor have asked not to be renamed. Miguel Estrada, a native of Honduras who has been mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee; California judge Carolyn Kuhl; and Claude Allen, a Virginia resident who earned opposition from Maryland's two senators since the post to which he was nominated on the 4th Circuit typically is held by a Marylander; have all stated they do not want to seek the federal posts.