Leahy predicts more extreme judicial nominees

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says he’s disappointed that moderate Republican members of the Senate haven’t opposed most of President’s Bush’s judicial nominees in the past two weeks.

Leahy says he’s worried that this lack of courage by GOP moderates will encourage the president to nominate more “extreme” candidates in the future.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) When a group of seven Republican and seven Democratic senators joined together last month to block an effort to ban judicial filibusters in the U.S. Senate, many observers thought the Democrats had scored an important victory defending the rights of the minority party.

But now a number of Democrats are questioning the wisdom of the agreement, because some of the president’s most controversial nominees — including three who were blocked for several years — have quickly been approved by the full Senate.

The agreement maintained the filibuster, but said it should be used only in “extraordinary circumstances.”

Leahy, who’s the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary committee, is very disappointed that Republican moderates haven’t joined with the Democrats to oppose the most conservative nominees. And he thinks it will embolden the president to nominate ideological judges in the future:

(Leahy) “Most of the Democrats will vote against the extreme nominees. It’s time to ask why out of 55 Republicans aren’t there at least a half a dozen who will stand up and do publicly what they say privately should be done — that is vote them down. Until that happens the president will continue to send people way out of the mainstream — send activists, non-mainstream judges.”

(Kinzel) It’s expected that there will be a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court in the next few months — Chief Justice William Rehnquist is battling cancer.

Leahy says the president has a historic opportunity when he fills this vacancy.

(Leahy) “He could very easily nominate people to the Supreme Court that would get virtually every Republican and virtually every Democrat to vote for and I think the whole country would breath a sigh of relief that the President would nominate a consensus person one strongly supported by both parties I think it would unite rather than divide the country and I think it would be a very very good thing for the Supreme Court.”

(Kinzel) If the president picks a current member of the court to be the next Chief Justice, he will then have an opportunity to select a new associate justice for the Court once the new Chief has been confirmed.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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