It appears that last week’s attempts by Senate leaders to resolve the issue of federal judges peacefully were short lived. The McConnell-Reid agreement, which called for movement on three circuit court nominees before Memorial Day now seems to be falling apart. Why? No one can agree on which judges to move.
According to Congressional Quarterly, Senate Democrats have agreed to hold a hearing on May 1st for Fourth Circuit consensus nominee G. Stephen Agee, who was recommended by both Virginia Senators Jim Webb and John Warner. Republicans, not satisfied with Agee’s conservative bona fides would rather advance DC Circuit nominee Peter Keisler. Anxious still that a separate agreement between Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and the White House might fill the other two slots with Sixth Circuit nominees who have bipartisan support, Senate Republicans are pushing for hearings on conservative ideologues Robert Conrad, Jr. and Steve Matthews, both nominated to the Fourth Circuit, instead.
Feebly arguing that Conrad and Matthews have been waiting for hearings longer than Agee, Senate Republicans suggested that nominees be evaluated in the order they were nominated – certainly not traditional practice in the Senate. Besides, Raymond Kethledge, one of the nominees included in the Leahy-White House deal, was put forward more than a year before Conrad and Matthews, suggesting their actual concern is ensuring the confirmation of two more ultra-conservatives judges to the federal bench.
Thankfully, Sen. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has so far resisted GOP pressure to move only those nominees who meet their ideological criteria. In a letter to his Republican colleagues, Sen. Leahy wrote, “you can pick fights over a few of the more controversial nominations, or we can continue to make significant progress.”