Leahy's Committee Votes Down Pickering

03/15/02 12:00AM By John Dillon



(Host) Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy was in the political hot seat Thursday. Leahy and other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted to reject one of President Bush's judicial nominees. Leahy is chairman of the Judiciary panel.

The president this week called on Leahy and other Democrats to approve the nomination of Judge Charles Pickering to the federal appeals court. But Leahy says Pickering failed Bush's own standards for qualified federal judges.

VPR's John Dillon has more.


(Dillon) At a news conference this week, President Bush made a final appeal for Pickering's nomination. That appeal failed when the Judiciary Committee rejected the conservative judge.

Bush also accused Leahy and other Democrats of blocking action on many federal appeals court nominations. The president said just seven of his 29 nominees to the appellate courts have been confirmed. But Leahy says his committee has moved faster on judgeships than it did when Republicans were in control:

(Leahy) "Well, the president of course wants to speak up for his nominees. He has the right to do that, even though most of his facts were wrong when he did speak. We've had 43 nominees before the committee, almost all conservative Republicans. Forty-two of the 43 have been confirmed.... I think any team would be awfully happy to get 42 out of their first 43. He's certainly done far, far better than President Clinton did with a Republican-controlled Senate."

(Dillon) The Pickering vote was Bush's first defeat of a judicial nomination.

The debate was widely seen as a warm-up to a potential battle over a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. But Leahy says a Supreme Court nominee may get a far different reception than Pickering:

(Leahy) "I think that's the spin the White House wants to give it. I see each judge, each one by themselves. If they're qualified, they'll go through. Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal – if they're qualified they'll go through. If they're not, they won't."

(Dillon) Leahy says he voted against Pickering because he's shown an unwillingness to follow higher court precedents. He says Pickering has become involved in ethical problems by seeking endorsements from lawyers who appear before him.

Republicans, however, argued that Pickering was rejected because of intense lobbying from liberal groups and women's rights organizations.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon.
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