Schumer Admits Political Bias in Judicial Confirmations

One of the most outspoken opponents of President Bush's judicial nominees said Thursday senators regularly vote against each other's nominees for purely political reasons, instead of looking for the best nominee.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Republicans and Democrats regularly vote against each other's nominees for ideological reasons, instead of putting politics aside. "It doesn't make a difference whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, votes against judicial nominees are almost always driven by judicial ideology," Schumer said Thursday.

This comes as the Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee gets ready to consider its most controversial nominees of the year, including the promotion of a former aide to Sen. Strom Thurmond to the federal appeals court.

The committee delayed the final vote on U.S. District Judge Dennis Shedd of South Carolina for a seat on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., which covers South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia and has the largest black population of any circuit.

Shedd has been criticized by South Carolina's state branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which accused him of having a "deep and abiding hostility toward civil rights cases."

However, Shedd has support from both the retiring Thurmond, R-S.C., and Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., which will probably give his nomination a boost in the committee. The committee will now vote on Shedd at its next scheduled meeting.

Republicans normally vote against Democrats, and Democrats normally vote against Republicans when it comes to judges, said Schumer, who is one of the most outspoken opponents of what he calls "right wing ideologues."

"The only conclusion one can reasonably draw from this data is that ideology does matter," Schumer said.

This comes one day after Democrats grilled Utah nominee Michael McConnell, who wants a seat on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

McConnell called on Democrats Wednesday to overlook his anti-abortion advocacy and conservative views, saying he'd follow the law as written instead of how he wants it to be.

"I will conscientiously enforce the law, including laws and precedents I don't agree with," the 47-year-old professor said.

Like Shedd, McConnell will need at least one Democrat to vote for him for his nomination to move beyond the committee, which already has rejected two of Bush's appeals court candidates: U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen.

The Senate has confirmed 77 Bush nominees to the U.S. Appeals and District courts so far, with 49 nominees still waiting on a vote.

Liberal groups have denounced McConnell, an outspoken anti-abortion advocate, saying his lifetime of work for conservative causes makes him too biased.

Democrats repeatedly questioned whether he could leave all that behind on the appeals court. "Knowing that you have strong personal views about a woman's right to choose which you have expressed vigorously, what would you say to a woman who had a case coming in front of your court to reassure her that you would in fact enforce the constitutional protection in Roe (v. Wade)?" asked Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.

McConnell said he would be "a judge who plays it straight."

"That's what I'm committed to," he said. "When I am engaged in trying to figure out where the law leads, it leads where it leads. It doesn't necessarily lead where I want it to go."

It is not known how quickly McConnell will get a vote in the committee. With the legislative year quickly waning, it could be next month or next year before the committee votes.

The committee also announced that Miguel Estrada, Bush's nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, will get his hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee next week.

Republicans, including Bush and Vice President Cheney, as well as some Hispanic advocacy groups, have repeatedly called for Estrada to get a hearing from the Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee since his nomination in May 2001.

Estrada is a partner in the Washington firm that represented Bush at the Supreme Court during his postelection legal fight with Democrat Al Gore. He also has been mentioned as possibly the first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee if a position opens during Bush's term.