President Bush on Monday renominated 20 candidates for federal judgeships, including several whose nominations had been blocked during the last term of Congress by Senate Democrats who branded them as right-wing ideologues.
The president's action, which made good on a promise announced by the White House in December to renominate those who had been blocked by filibusters or whose nominations had not been brought to the floor for a vote, precipitated a flurry of truculent responses from Democratic senators, as well as from environmental and civil liberties groups.
"The President is at it again with extremist judges," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "Last year, the Senate worked to confirm 204 of the president's judicial nominees and rejected only the 10 most extreme."
C. Boyden Gray, a prominent Republican lawyer who chairs the Committee for Justice, a group seeking to help Bush's judicial nominees, countered, "there is nothing extreme" about any of the renominated judges.
But Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said the judges who were filibustered last year and have been renominated "are out of the mainstream and will not be confirmed by the Senate, unless they have drastically modified their views and ideologies."
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said last week that he thought Schumer might be amenable to one of the first nominees Specter planned to ask the committee to vote on -- William G. Myers III. Myers, the top lawyer in the Interior Department during the first two years of the Bush administration, was nominated for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Nevada.
Last year, Schumer said Myers, a lobbyist for mining and cattle interests, had a record that "screams 'passionate activist' and doesn't so much as whisper 'impartial judge.' "
Schumer's remarks Monday made it clear he had no intention of changing his mind.
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa)., however, said Monday that he hoped all the nominees would get a vote from the full Senate. Senate Democrats "obstructed the process during the 108th Congress" by using filibusters to deny "highly qualified judicial nominees a fair up-or-down vote."
Specter issued no statement Monday, but Senate sources said it was possible that he might call for a committee vote on two nominees -- Myers and William H. Pryor Jr., former Alabama attorney general -- as early as Thursday, when the panel holds its next meeting. After Pryor was filibustered, Bush named him to the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit bench as a recess appointment, but that term ended in December.
If Specter seeks a committee vote without further hearings, as he indicated he might, that could set off the first of what are likely to be a number of clashes on the nominations. Senate Democrats maintain that such hearings should be held as part of normal Senate procedure.
Because the Republicans now have 55 of the Senate's 100 members, their hand is stronger in attempts to break a filibuster. It takes 60 votes in the Senate to cut off debate. Senate Majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has indicated that if Democrats again attempt filibusters, he might seek a ruling from the Senate that 51 votes, not 60, would be needed to stop a filibuster on a judicial nomination.
Frist was unavailable for comment Monday. In an interview on "Fox News Sunday," he said he might make such a move because it would restore a Senate "tradition of 200 years" of "giving advice and consent" and allowing a vote.
On Monday, Schumer countered that if Frist took such action it would represent a "nuclear option ... because it will blow up the Senate. We don't know if Sen. Frist has 51 yes votes, but it would be a tragedy for the Senate and for the country if he does."
In addition to the Democratic senators, the Alliance for Justice, People for the American Way, the Human Rights Campaign, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and several environmental and Native American organizations criticized the renominations.
In addition to Myers and Pryor, other previously filibustered nominees targeted by critics Monday were California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, nominated for the District of Columbia Circuit; Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Richman Owen, nominated for the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit; and three from Michigan nominated to the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit: Richard A. Griffin and Henry W. Saad, who are state appeals court judges, and U.S. District Judge David W. McKeague.
Other nominees assailed by critics Monday were former White House lawyer Brett M. Kavanaugh and Utah attorney Thomas B. Griffith, both nominated for the District of Columbia Circuit; Defense Department lawyer William J. Haynes II and U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle, both nominated for the Richmond, Va.-based 4th Circuit; and Susan B. Neilson, a Michigan court trial judge tapped for the 6th Circuit.
Haynes has been the subject of considerable criticism for the role he played as the Pentagon's chief lawyer in formulating administration policies for detainees after the Sept. 11 attacks. He also oversaw a group of administration lawyers who prepared a memo on the eve of the war with Iraq that asserted that the president might not be bound by anti-torture laws.
The groups criticizing the appeals court nominees did not raise objections to the eight nominees for federal trial judgeships.