Democrats vote No, But say Yes
Two ultra-Fundamentalist judges were confirmed by voice vote today by all but one Democratic Senator.
November 15, 2002
Democrats Vote No, but Allow Judicial Nominee to Advance
By NEIL A. LEWIS
ASHINGTON, Nov. 14 — The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee today engaged in an unusual voting maneuver that signaled their disapproval of one of President Bush's judicial nominees even as they cleared the way for his confirmation.
They first allowed the nominee, Judge Dennis Shedd, to be approved by a voice vote. Then, one by one, each of the Democrats present asked to be recorded as having voted against him.
Senate Democrats decided not to impede the nomination, and one other, in recognition that they would be approved anyway when the Republicans take over in January and to enhance their credibility when they opposed other nominees.
The Democrats' behavior meant that they are all now listed as voting against Judge Shedd, whose 12-year tenure as a federal trial judge in South Carolina has drawn criticism from civil rights groups. But they did not ask for a tally of the vote — a call for the yeas and nays — that would have blocked his confirmation.
Many veteran Senate staff aides and lobbyists said they could not recall a similar occurrence. The unusual behavior concerning the vote on Judge Shedd occurred as the committee met for the last time before the Democrats turn control over to the Republicans, who will hold a majority in the Senate in 2003. It took place against a backdrop of partisan tensions that were evident despite today's formal and polite remarks.
The committee also approved by voice vote the confirmation of Prof. Michael McConnell of the University of Utah to an appeals court seat in Denver. In contrast to Judge Shedd's nomination, a few Democrats asked to be recorded as having voted in favor of Professor McConnell; only Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, asked to be recorded as having voted against the nominee.
Democrats have used their slim majority on the committee to block those of Mr. Bush's appellate court nominees they have said are too conservative. Republicans who chafed at their inability to get all Mr. Bush's candidates confirmed were robust and confident today as they contemplated an abrupt change in the committee's output.
"I'm quite sure that things will change markedly," said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who will become the committee chairman early next year. "I would like things to be more civil around here," he said.
A senior Republican staff aide was more blunt, saying that all of Mr. Bush's nominees would be quickly confirmed and the Democrats could do little about it. The Shedd and McConnell nominations are expected to be approved by the full Senate.
The committee's meeting was the final one for Senator Strom Thurmond, the South Carolina Republican. Mr. Thurmond, the chamber's oldest member, will turn 100 years old in a few weeks and is retiring at the end of the term. Senator Thurmond, who has been frail for some time, seemed especially so today. He declined an opportunity to read a statement in support of Judge Shedd, who is being elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond.
Recently, Mr. Thurmond would read at least part of his statements before the committee but not engage in any back-and-forth with witnesses or colleagues. When Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the committee chairman, asked Mr. Thurmond today if he wanted to speak, Mr. Thurmond seemed not to react.
The Shedd nomination was, still, a tribute of sorts to Mr. Thurmond. Years before, Judge Shedd had been an aide to Mr. Thurmond, who complained bitterly just before Election Day that he was offended that Mr. Leahy had not scheduled a vote on the nomination.
Mr. Durbin said in an interview that one explanation for the strange vote was that Democrats were opposed to elevating Judge Shedd but "wanted to make an effort to give Senator Thurmond a nominee that was important to him."
When it came time to vote, Mr. Leahy took a voice vote and declared that the Republicans who all shouted "aye" had bested the Democrats' "No." Then, Democrats asked to be recorded as having voted no. Senator Joseph R. Biden of Delaware, who was absent, was the only one of the committee's 10 Democrats who was not recorded as voting. The committee has nine Republicans, and even if they had been able to muster all their votes, they would have achieved only a tie in a roll call, under which the candidate loses.
Liberal advocacy groups assailed the Democrats for their actions.
"This was inconsistent with good government and responsible leadership," said Ralph Neas of People for the American Way. "All Americans have the right to know how their senators voted and why in this case they don't have the answers because of the way it was handled."
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