WASHINGTON — The Senate Wednesday approved by a single vote the controversial nomination of Daniel A. Manion to a federal appeals court, with Vice President George Bush casting a tie-breaking vote for the Indiana lawyer that opponents had claimed was unqualified.
The 50-49 vote was the second vote on the politically charged nomination, which President Reagan had deemed a major test of his appointment prerogatives. Only five Republicans defected from party ranks and voted against Manion, while two Democrats supported him.
Manion's nomination had been approved narrowly last month, but the outcome of that vote had been disputed immediately. Senate Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) had demanded that the Senate reconsider Manion's appointment to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Illinois and Indiana.
Bush Vote Symbolic
Bush's vote technically had not been needed to clinch the appointment, because the second test was on a vote to reconsider the earlier confirmation and a tie was all that was needed. However, a spokesman said the vice president believed that it was "important to register the Administration feeling, as well as to let people know how he felt."
The intense fight over the nomination of the 44-year-old conservative attorney reflects a larger and escalating battle of wills between Reagan and the Senate over the issue of judicial appointments. Those lifetime appointments offer Reagan his best hope of leaving a lasting conservative ideological imprint on American society after he leaves office.
The stakes will soar next week, when the Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings on Reagan's nomination to elevate William H. Rehnquist to chief justice and follows them with hearings on the nomination of Antonin Scalia to replace Rehnquist as a Supreme Court justice. Both men, however, are expected to win easy confirmation.
Manion's nomination marked the first test of Reagan's clout on judicial appointments since the President's defeat on a judicial nomination last month, when the Judiciary Committee rejected the nomination of Jefferson B. Sessions III to a federal district court in Alabama. The increasingly rebellious committee earlier had refused to endorse Manion's nomination as well but had allowed it to be sent to the Senate floor without recommendation.
Some opponents said the showdown over Manion has heightened the Senate's sensitivity to its constitutional duty as the single legislative body screening judicial nominations and may intensify its scrutiny of Supreme Court nominees.
"In the future, Reagan certainly is on notice," said Nancy Broff, speaking for the Judicial Selection Project, a coalition of organizations that opposed the Manion nomination.
For the time being, however, the Administration celebrated Manion's nomination as an unqualified victory. Reagan jubilantly announced it to a cheering crowd at a political rally in Dallas.
And, before a political fund-raiser for Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.), Reagan said at a rally in Miami that the senator was delayed "because a judge I nominated had to be ratified, and a little lynch mob had organized resistance against his appointment--we won by one vote."
The President telephoned Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) from Air Force One shortly after the vote and was quoted by an aide to Dole as thanking the majority leader for "a great engineering job." Victory came when one senator reversed his earlier vote against Manion and another opponent agreed not to vote at all.
"Today's vote vindicates (Manion) and his selection," Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III said in a statement. Meese congratulated the Senate for "resisting extremist attempts to politicize the judicial confirmation process" and Manion for withstanding "vicious and unfounded ideological assaults against his professional reputation."
California Republican Pete Wilson voted for the nomination, while Alan Cranston, the state's Democratic senator, voted against it.
Critics claimed that Manion's legal record was average, at best. The standard for federal judgeships should be "one of excellence--not mediocrity, not bare minimum, not scraping by--excellence," argued Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat.
Critics claimed that a review of some of Manion's legal briefs showed that they were poorly written and included many misspellings. The critics also repeatedly referred to the fact that Manion, who has little experience practicing law outside a state court, had been given the lowest acceptable rating by the American Bar Assn.
But Manion's supporters noted that roughly half of all judges now sitting on federal benches had been elevated to those jobs with no better than the "qualified" ABA rating given Manion. They insisted that opposition was actually based on Manion's conservatism, not his competence.