WASHINGTON – A controversial nominee to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals may be out of the woods, but he's not yet in the clear.
The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday voted 12-7 to send the nomination of U.S. District Judge D. Brooks Smith to the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Smith, who was nominated by President Bush on Sept. 10, will get a confirmation vote in the Senate before the end of the year.
But advocacy groups who oppose Smith say they are not done trying to derail the nomination of Smith, who has been accused of gender discrimination as well as a poor environmental, civil, workers' and consumer rights record.
"Our efforts to defeat Judge Smith's confirmation are not over," said Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron. "We expect that groups dedicated to gender equality will be especially energized for a floor fight, but his record is one that should alarm anyone committed to equal justice for all, who believes in a capable, fair and independent judiciary."
Three Democrats on the committee supported Smith, who was questioned about trips he accepted from organizations pursuing relaxed environmental regulations and about his late recusal from a fraud case involving a bank where his wife served as vice president.
The Justice Department cleared Smith of any wrongdoing in the bank case, which he said he did not know at first involved his wife's bank. He testified that his rulings as a judge "were neither illegal nor unethical" and he stepped aside when he learned of the conflict of interest.
He also promised not to to accept any more trips that might pose an appearance problem.
One of the three Democratic senators who voted for Smith was Sen. John Edwards, who spearheaded the campaign against another Bush nominee, District Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr., saying that Pickering could not distinguish his own opinion from court precedent. Pickering was defeated 10-9 in the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee.
Edwards did not have the same fears about Smith, first named a federal judge by Ronald Reagan in 1988.
"I think the answer is yes, Judge Smith will apply the law," Edwards said in a written statement after the vote, which he missed, but was later allowed to submit. "He will protect people's rights."
Democratic Sens. Joseph Biden of Delaware and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin also voted for Smith.
"I don't have sufficient reason to vote against this judge," Biden said, though he complained about a speech Smith gave to the Federalist Society in 1993 about the Violence Against Women Act, which at the time was going to be challenged in court.
This is the 58th judicial nominee to be sent to the Senate. The president and Republicans had complained that the Senate was working too slowly to confirm Bush judicial nominees, which number more than 100.
The 3rd Circuit covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.