Moderate Republicans May Sink Bush Nominee

A group of ‘moderate’ Republican senators may sink one of President Bush’s conservative judicial nominees.

If they do, it will mark the first time a Bush judicial nominee has been defeated by an actual vote (rather than a filibuster) in the Senate.

In January 2003, Bush nominated Leon Holmes, a pro-life constitutionalist, to a vacancy on the U.S. District Court in Little Rock. Holmes was endorsed by both of Arkansas’s Democratic senators, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. But indecision by liberal Republicans has repeatedly delayed what normally would have been a pro forma confirmation vote for Holmes on the Senate floor. Currently, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) has scheduled a July 6 vote on the nomination to be preceded by six hours of debate.

Usually conservative Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R.-Tex.), who often votes with pro-lifers, in this case is the prime mover in a group of pro-choice Republicans who have been holding up Holmes, said Manuel Miranda–who until February 6 worked for Frist on judicial nominations. Within the Republican conference, said Miranda, “Hutchison has been the principal problem.”

No Republican senator has committed publicly to voting against Holmes, but several have told Republican leaders privately that they are undecided. “I’ve seen a GOP whip sheet and Hutchison is undecided,” said Miranda. Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.)–who is slated to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee next year–are also undecided, said Miranda. They could provide more than enough votes to kill Holmes.

But, said Miranda, “I think enough of them will end up voting for Holmes.” Miranda said five Democrats are also expected to vote for Holmes: Ben Nelson (Neb.), Zell Miller (Ga.) and John Breaux (La.), as well as Lincoln and Pryor.

Lincoln and Pryor have publicly expressed their support for Holmes, and Miller’s office confirmed to HUMAN EVENTS last week that he will vote for him. But spokesmen for all the other pro-Holmes Democrats and undecided Republicans listed by Miranda refused to say how their senators would vote or did not respond to calls.

Hutchison communications director Kevin Schweers said June 30 that she was still undecided on how to vote. So far, Hutchison has never voted against a Bush nominee, he said. “She takes lifetime nominations like this one very seriously and she’s still researching it,” he said. “She has met with Holmes and the two senators from Arkansas.” He explained that Hutchison is not a member of the Judiciary Committee and thus has not had to explore thoroughly Holmes’ nomination before now.

Holmes came under fire from liberal Democrats for his strong pro-life stand and his co-authorship with his wife of an article propounding a Biblical model of marriage, and for writing 23 years ago that “conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.” Holmes apologized for the rape remark and said that his view of Christian marriage was taken out of context by opponents to imply that he believed all women should be submissive to all men, including in court.

In an unusual move, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported Holmes’s nomination to the floor on May 1, 2003, without a recommendation. Specter initially had joined with committee Democrats to request that Holmes’s nomination be held up while the charges against him were explored. But, Specter explained in a Sept. 9, 2003, letter to the Wall Street Journal, Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah), a strong Holmes supporter, “suggested sending Mr. Holmes’s nomination to the floor without a committee recommendation. I agreed.”

Asked last week how Specter would vote, spokesman Charles Robbins said Specter does not reveal votes beforehand but sent a transcript of Specter’s comments at a Judiciary hearing in which Specter said he had “reservations” about Holmes.