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Senate Approves Sutton, but Democrats Will Filibuster Owen in Addition to Estrada

After the Senate approved one federal judge Tuesday, Democrats made clear their strategy on other conservative nominees: more filibusters.

Despite strong opposition to placing Jeffrey Sutton on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Democrats did not attempt to filibuster his nomination, paving the way for his confirmation on a 52-41 vote.

Instead of savoring the victory, Republicans moved straight to debate over the nomination of Priscilla Owen after breaking for the weekly policy luncheons.

Confirming Owen to the 5th Circuit will not prove as easy, however.

Before debate resumed — her nomination was discussed before the spring recess — Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) said his fellow Democrats would filibuster Owen.

That tactic, combined with Democrats’ resolve not to allow a vote on Miguel Estrada, has Republican leaders fit to be tied. (President Bush renominated Estrada to U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Jan. 7.)

Democrats appear to have employed a strategy of obstruction, Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said.

“There is no reason for a filibuster against Priscilla Owen other than obstruction,” he said.

But Daschle denied the charge.

“We’ve confirmed, as you now know, 119 judges in the last year and a half,” Daschle said. “Since this administration has come to office, they’ve had 121 judicial nominations that have been considered, and all but two, 119, have been confirmed; two have not.”

Nevertheless, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) made clear that Republicans would work to get all of their nominees approved.

“I’m not going to give up,” Frist said of efforts to see both Owen and Estrada placed on the bench. “We will persist.”

Countering Republican charges that his Caucus is not giving Estrada, a Hispanic, a fair break, Daschle said he would push Frist to bring another Hispanic, Edward Prado, to the floor for a vote. Bush nominated Prado to the 5th Circuit on Feb. 6 and he, like the others, already cleared committee.

“But we will continue to ask for Mr. Prado’s confirmation, and we hope that our Republican colleagues will join us as we consider his nomination, along with many others, over the course of the next couple of weeks,” Daschle said.

Frist already made it clear, however, that he is unlikely to bring up any nominee the Democrats approve of as long as they continue to filibuster other Bush candidates.

“I’m not going to let them cherry pick, then filibuster groups of people and not give me some time agreements [on final votes],” Frist said before the recess.

Republicans have made it clear that they will continue pushing their preferred nominees.

The Judiciary Committee is holding a second hearing Wednesday on controversial nominee John Roberts, whom Bush nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Additionally, Democrats know that Frist may move for a floor vote on an equally controversial nominee, Deborah Cook, who was picked for the 6th Circuit, anytime, though the Majority Leader on Tuesday did not indicate if or when he would do so.

Frist complained that Democrats are setting a new and dangerous precedent for judicial nominees by filibustering some candidates, because it takes 60 votes to invoke cloture, which ends debate, but under the Constitution nominees need only a simple majority for confirmation.

Daschle flatly refuted that argument.

“No, no, that’s not a precedent,” he told reporters. “That precedent is one that has been used on countless occasions. We didn’t take up scores of judges in the Clinton administration in part because of a one-person filibuster, commonly called a hold. What is a hold but a one-person filibuster?”

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