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Senate Judiciary Delays Vote on Circuit Court Nominees

The Senate Judiciary Committee delayed voting on three controversial Circuit Court nominees Thursday, further delaying a confirmation process President Bush began in 2001.

Although the panel did approve three lower court candidates, a vote for the three Circuit Court nominees — Deborah Cook for the 6th Circuit, John Roberts for the D.C. Circuit and Jeffrey Sutton, also for the 6th Circuit — was moved to Feb. 12.

The District Court nominees were approved without dissent: John Adams for the Northern District of Ohio, Robert Junell for the Western District of Texas, and S. James Otero for the Central District of California.

The decision to postpone the vote seems to be partly a nod to Democrats, who have complained that it was unfair to decide on three controversial nominees after one hearing, but also to sparse attendance. When the meeting convened, several Judiciary members were still at the National Cathedral memorial service for the astronauts who died on the space shuttle Columbia, so Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was obliged to wait 15 minutes before a quorum of members was assembled.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) supported the decision to postpone the vote, saying she was impressed with Sutton’s breadth of knowledge and candor after his Jan. 29 hearing, but she felt the only way to give due consideration to judicial nominees was to take the time to review their records and the hearing transcripts carefully.

Hatch responded, “Yes, but [the nominees] have been waiting two years.”

Sutton proved to be the most controversial of the three Circuit Court nominees at the Jan. 29 hearing. Most of that session was devoted to grilling the former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and partner at Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue. He has specialized in states’ rights cases before the Supreme Court, and Democrats charged that he has tried to weaken the Americans With Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws.

Cook, an Ohio Supreme Court jurist, has been assailed for what Democrats have called a pro-business bias. During her tenure on the court, she has authored more than 300 dissents.

Roberts, partner of Hogan & Hartson, has been nominated three times in 11 years, but never received a hearing when he was tapped in 1992 by then-President George Bush and in 2001 by the current President Bush. People for the American Way and other groups oppose his nomination based on his advocacy for conservative views as a lawyer in the first Bush administration and the Reagan administration.

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