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Votes on Judges Could Put GOP in Tough Spot

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins (above) and Olympia Snowe have said that they won’t abide by GOP leaders’ edict to block circuit court judge nominees.

With the Senate GOP vowing to halt some judge confirmations until after the elections, Senate Democratic leaders see an opportunity to put Republicans in a tough spot by continuing to bring up circuit court nominees, possibly ones who have already received the support of GOP Senators.

Depending on how Republicans react, Democrats say they can paint the minority as obstructionist or shame them into confirming additional nominations.

Democrats may seek to test the issue by holding votes on two circuit court nominees who already have the backing of home-state Republican Senators.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) “can say whatever he wants behind closed doors, but it will be interesting to see how [GOP Senators] react in public” if they are forced to vote against judges, a Senate Democratic aide said.

One is William Kayatta Jr., who has been nominated for a seat on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Kayatta is a nationally recognized Maine trial lawyer who also maintains an active appellate practice. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved his nomination in the spring.

With Kayatta in mind, Maine GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins told the Forecaster newspaper in Falmouth, Maine, on Friday that they won’t abide by McConnell’s edict on circuit court judges.

“It simply isn’t fair that Bill, who would be a superb judge, now appears to be caught up in election-year politics,” Collins told the paper. “I have urged my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to give Bill the direct vote by the full Senate that he deserves.”

Another potential pressure point may be the nomination of Robert Bacharach for the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Bacharach is a magistrate judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. He has the backing of Oklahoma Republican Sens. Tom Coburn and James Inhofe.

The Judiciary Committee cleared his nomination last week, but Coburn on Monday said having a vote before the elections “doesn’t look good.”

Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on the floor Monday sought to pressure Republicans on Kayatta and Bacharach, as well as other nominees who have some GOP support.

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