WASHINGTON — President Bush nominated 11 lawyers to federal appeals courts Wednesday, urging the Senate to “rise above the bitterness of the past” and rapidly confirm his diverse, mostly conservative first slate of judicial candidates.
“I now submit these nominations in good faith, trusting the good faith will also be extended by the United States Senate,” Bush said.
After taking care to mollify Democrats with two nominees previously tapped by former President Clinton, Bush asked the evenly divided Senate “to provide a prompt vote to every nominee ... I ask for the return of civility and dignity to the confirmation process.”
Even before Bush spoke, Democrats announced that Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., could block the nomination of one of the picks, Terrence Boyle of North Carolina. Bush had withheld planned nominations of at least four conservatives to avoid Democratic objections.
Controversy and contention has surrounded the judicial confirmation process throughout the nation’s history, but the acrimony reached new levels when Democrats scuttled the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork in the 1980s. Republicans, in turn, blocked several Clinton nominees to lower court seats.
Bush’s nominees are little known outside judicial circles, but their selection offers a first glimpse of his resolve to add conservatives to the federal judiciary and the eagerness of Democrats to stop him.
Bush portrayed his picks as models of “experience and character” and said he will seek always to nominate judges who don’t “legislate from the bench.”
All eleven nominees were present, along with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. — the ranking members of the Judiciary Committee.
“We are pleased that the White House has chosen to work with us on the first group of nominations,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said.
Though a review of their legal records suggests Bush’s first judicial nominees are mostly conservative, he took pains to offer a diverse slate by appointing three women, two blacks and one Hispanic.
Seven of the 11 candidates are sitting judges.
Many owe previous judicial selections to Republican presidents.
None is known as an ideologue or as especially partisan, although it is hard to gauge the prospects for confirmation when the Senate is split 50-50.
Democrats have threatened to hold up the president’s nominees, partly in revenge for the delays that met some of Clinton’s judicial picks.
One of the more conservative selections, Washington lawyer Miguel Estrada, has a long list of admirers who call him one of the smartest and ethically rigorous lawyers they know. He is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the firm that represented Bush at the Supreme Court during the postelection legal fight.
Estrada came to the United States from Honduras as a teen-ager and took the SAT in English two years later. He got into Harvard and graduated near the top of his class.
Estrada favors gun control, but believes in the conservative judicial model of reading the “plain language” of a law or of the Constitution. The best-known proponent of this philosophy is probably Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
The White House informally advised lawmakers last week that Bush intended to nominate 15 judges, pending final reviews. Candidates drawing objections from Democrats were pulled from the list, including a GOP congressman from California, as Bush sought a controversy-free first slate.
Bush hopes to nominate the withheld candidates at a later date — but not for a least a couple of weeks — after further consultation with Congress, the White House official said.
Republican Rep. Chris Cox was the most prominent candidate tabled, along with Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and Peter Keisler for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va.
In addition to Estrada, the source said Bush also intends to nominate:
—Roger Gregory to the 4th Circuit in Virginia. Clinton nominated him to the post originally. Bush hopes the pick is cast as a show of bipartisanship.
—U.S. District Judge Edith Brown Clement to the 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans. She is a member of the conservative Federalist Society, whose members have had a hand in shaping Bush’s judicial choices. She was named to the federal bench in Louisiana by President George Bush in 1991.
—Boyle to the 4th Circuit in North Carolina. He was nominated for the appeals court by Bush’s father but never confirmed.
—John G. Roberts to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. Also nominated by Bush’s father, Roberts is a popular member of the bar who is considered a politically well-connected moderate. A specialist in making oral arguments before the Supreme Court, he is considered among the two or three most effective lawyers there.
—Jeffrey S. Sutton to the 6th Circuit in Ohio. He is a Supreme Court specialist with a winning record.
—Barrington D. Parker, appointed to the bench by Clinton, to the 2nd Circuit in Connecticut. He has 30 years experience as a judge, litigator and law clerk.
—Deborah Cook to the 6th Circuit in Ohio. She was elected twice to the Ohio Supreme Court.
—Dennis Shedd to the 4th Circuit. The South Carolina resident was appointed to the federal district court by Bush’s father.
—Priscilla Owen to the 5th Circuit in Texas. Elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 1994, she is the second woman ever to sit on the state’s high court.
—Michael McConnell to the 10th Circuit in Denver. He is another well-respected Supreme Court specialist, a professor at the University of Utah College of Law.