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Nomination delays

Jesse J. Holland (AP)/WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats, angry about a move to deny them veto rights over judicial nominees from their home states, are talking about delaying confirmations of President Bush's nominations of judges and top Justice Department officials.

"Until this is resolved adequately, they're not going to get our help," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., ranking Democrat on the Judiciary subcommittee that gets the first vote on nominees to the federal bench.

Bush is getting ready to send the first judicial nominations of his presidency to the Senate, which Republicans control through the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Dick Cheney. The Judiciary Committee is split evenly between the parties, and Democrats are threatening to vote against each Bush nominee to make their point.

The argument "could well create a situation where there are votes against a nomination just because it's our only remedy," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "That would then throw it into a difficult situation with a 50-50 vote on the floor. I don't think that's desirable or healthy for any nominee."

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said nothing had been decided yet, but he insisted that Democratic senators have a veto over the Bush nominees through their use of "blue slips" -- blue sheets of paper that say whether senators from the state where a vacancy is being filled support the nomination.

"We will enforce the blue slip policy the same way it's been enforced the last six years," he said. "It was good enough for the Democrats. We feel it's good enough for the Republicans."

Democrats say committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wants to move forward nominees if they are supported by just one senator from their home state, rather than both. That would effectively deny Democratic senators from 14 states the ability to block a home-state nominee.

When President Clinton, a Democrat, was in office, the Republican-led committee required both senators to sign off on the nominee before any votes, Democrats say.

Hatch has said he is only following the exact policy set by Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., his Democratic predecessor as Judiciary chairman. Biden in 1989 said a home state senator's veto would only carry "substantial weight" unless the White House had not consulted with the senator beforehand.

"There has been more consultation between the minority party and the White House in the first 100 days of the Bush administration than in the eight years of the Clinton White House," Judiciary Committee spokeswoman Margarita Tapia said. "You cannot escape the fact that the Constitution gives the president the power to appoint judges with the advice and consent to the Senate. The Constitution does not give any party or any one senator the right to veto judicial nominees, which is where our critics seem to be headed."

Democrats, however, circulated an Aug. 1 blue slip form letter on Judiciary Committee letterhead that seemed to indicate that senators still had automatic vetoes. "No further proceedings on this nominee will be scheduled until both blue slips have been returned by the nominee's home state senators," the letter said.

The dispute already is showing up in the Judiciary Committee's work. A nomination hearing for deputy attorney general and solicitor general was canceled last week after senators instead spent two hours talking about the blue slip policy. Another hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, but "our view is that (the blue slips) have to be resolved first," Schumer said. The nominations "may not come up."

(c) 2001 Associated Press

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