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Senate must begin clearing backlog of judicial nominees



Published: Sat, January 19, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Payback in politics is a way of life, but every life has a cycle and it is time for the Democrats who control the U.S. Senate to recognize that the cycle of delaying judicial confirmations has run its course.

There is no doubt that the Republicans delayed court appointments to the federal bench during President Clinton's tenure. Not a single confirmation was made during the last eight months he was in office, in apparent anticipation of President Bush's election.

And when the president was elected, he immediately removed from consideration any candidates on deck. Unfortunately for the Republicans, the new president and the hold-over Senate didn't get the confirmation ball rolling before Sen. James Jeffords defected, giving control of the Senate and its Judiciary Committee to the Democrats.

It should come as a surprise to no one that the Democrats did not leap with any enthusiasm to the task of confirming President Bush's nominees-- and then just about everything came to a stop for weeks after September 11.

It is now a new year, and as the Senate resumes its work it is incumbent on Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to break the logjam and begin getting new federal judges to work.

Ohio connection: This is particularly important in Ohio, where the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is virtually crippled. There are eight openings on the 16-member court, and now one of the 6th's senior-status judges, Nathaniel Jones, a Youngstown native, has announced he is retiring. Even though he had been semi-retired since 1995, Judge Jones had continued to carry practically a full caseload.

The problem on the 6th Circuit, which covers Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky, as well as Ohio -- can be traced to the pique of Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan. He believes that Republicans were unfair in blocking appointments that he favored to the court, and now he's exacting his revenge.

Revenge is an ugly word, and we're sure Sen. Levin would call it something else, but whatever it is called, it's wrong.

President Bush has nominated seven judges to the 6th Circuit, including Deborah Cook, a justice on the Ohio Supreme Court. She was nominated more than eight months ago.

These nominees deserve a hearing and to be voted up or down by the committee on their merits.

We trust that every member of the Senate would agree that the American system of justice is one of this nation's greatest assets. If the Democratic majority believes that, they will stop obstructing the Bush administration's efforts to fill critical openings.

If the president nominates ideologues or incompetents, the hearing process should expose those weaknesses and the Senate can reject those nominees who shouldn't be on the bench.

But let the hearings begin.




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