Senate Set for Judicial Showdown

Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) will hold hearings on four of President Bush’s judicial nominees starting March 1, setting the stage for what promises to be a partisan battle that could ultimately lead to a change in the Senate’s filibuster rule if Democrats prevent an up-or-down vote on the nominees.

Appellate court nominees William Myers III, a former Interior Department solicitor, and U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle were chosen by Specter in hopes of staving off a controversy with Democrats. (The committee will also consider district court nominees Robert Conrad, Jr. and James Dever III, both of North Carolina.)

This will be Myers’s second Judiciary hearing. Democrats filibustered the 9th Circuit nominee in the 108th Congress, although Democrat Senators Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Joe Biden (Del.) broke ranks and voted for him. Meanwhile, freshman Sen. Ken Salazar (D.-Colo.) wrote a letter last year with other attorneys general urging Myers’s confirmation. These three Democrats and all Republicans would give Myers 58 votes, two shy of the 60 needed to stop a filibuster.

Senate Democrat Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), however, shows no sign of relenting. “Unless there’s something that is new, that I’m not aware of with each of these men and women, we will vote the same way we did in the past,” Reid said when asked if Democrats would filibuster the appellate court nominees, including Myers.

Whether Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) has enough votes to halt a Democrat-led filibuster also remains uncertain. After telling the Washington Times he had 51 senators lined up to implement the “nuclear” option, Frist backtracked at his press briefing last Tuesday. “I don’t want to be locked into, you know, individual members, what do they feel about one of the many options that can be used,” he said.