Sen. Specter Holds News Conference
February 24, 2005. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, held a news conference in the Capitol Building on Thursday morning, February 24, 2005, He addressed, and answered questions, on a wide range of issues, including judicial nominations, ChoicePoint, and the security of information in electronic databases.
ChoicePoint. Sen. Specter said that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the ranking Democrat on the Committee, wrote a letter to him requesting hearings on ChoicePoint and associated issues. Sen. Specter said that "I immediately said we could hold a hearing."
Health. Earlier this month, he announced that he has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymph system. See, release. He discussed the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment, which began on Friday, February 18. He stated that he expects to be able to carry out his duties as Chairman of the Committee. He stood throughout the 40 minute news conference, and reminded reporters of the beneficial effects of his regular squash routine.
Judicial Nominees. He spoke at length about judicial nominees and the process for confirming judicial nominees.
Sen. Specter (at right) said that "I have a commitment to the President to give his nominees prompt hearings" and committee votes. He added that what happens on the floor of the Senate is another matter.
In the 108th Congress, Senate Democrats used the filibuster, or threat of the filibuster, to prevent the Senate from voting on many of President Bush's nominees for various U.S. Courts of Appeals. On February 14, President Bush renominated twelve of these.
The twelve are as follows: Terrence Boyle (4th Circuit), William Haynes (4th Circuit), Priscilla Owen (5th Circuit), David McKeague (6th Circuit), Susan Neilson (6th Circuit), Henry Saad (6th Circuit), Richard Griffin (6th Circuit), William Myers (9th Circuit), William Pryor (11th Circuit), Janice Brown (DC Circuit), Brett Kavanaugh (DC Circuit), and Thomas Griffith (DC Circuit). See, White House release. See also, story titled "Bush to Renominate 20 for Federal Judgeships" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,044, December 27, 2004.
Sen. Specter said that "each side has ratcheted it up", as Democrats employed the filibuster, and Bush started to make recess appointments of judges. "No one wants to back down. No one wants to loose face," said Sen. Specter.
Sen. Specter also pointed out that many Senate Republicans now support a "nuclear option", that would change the Senate's rules, or their interpretation, regarding filibusters, to enable judicial nominees to come up for a simple majority vote. Also, he noted, with reference to Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), that Democrats have threatened to "screw things up".
The current understanding of Senate Rule 22 is that a cloture motion, to end debate on a matter, requires a three fifths majority, and that this applies to debate on judicial nominees.
Sen. Specter said that he has not yet taken a position on the "nuclear option", and that he hopes that the issue will be resolved without resorting to this option. He added that he does not know if there are 51 votes in the Senate to implement such an option.
He did not comment on any prospective nominees for the Supreme Court. However, he did say that Committee staff has begun work, in anticipation of at least one Supreme Court vacancy. He said that "we are doing as much spade work in advance as we can".
He did, however, comment on some Appeals Court nominees. He focused on William Myers, who has been nominated for the 9th Circuit, which includes California and other Pacific and western states. He said that the 9th Circuit is now a "very liberal circuit", and that "William Myers would give some balance to the 9th Circuit".
Telecommunications Mergers. Sen. Specter fielded one question regarding telecom mergers. He said that he has talked with Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH), the Chairman of the antitrust subcommittee. However, Sen. Specter made no commitments, and did not discuss any specific transactions, or any legislative proposals.
This is what he said. "I talked to Sen. DeWine about that. We are now in the midst of discussing whether there ought to be a subcommittee or a full committee. And part of that will turn on how busy the full committee is. Sen. DeWine has been Chairman of the antitrust subcommittee. And, he can bring those hearings forward. That is a matter that requires a hearing."
Other Issues. He also discussed, and answered many questions regarding, asbestos related legislation, the bankruptcy reform bill (and its abortion related provision), sentencing guidelines, defense appropriations, and social security reform.
Sen. Specter did not discuss any of the intellectual property issues that have been before the Committee in recent years, such as patent and trademark fees, and legislation regarding inducement of copyright infringement.
Sen. Leahy's Response. Sen. Leahy issued a release in response. He wrote that "Chairman Specter's news conference demonstrated his determination, his statesmanship and his ambitious agenda for the committee, and Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are delighted to see him back so soon in such fine form and good humor."
"He outlined the bipartisan progress that we are making together on several efforts, including asbestos legislation and hearings the committee will hold on privacy and identity theft issues", said Sen. Leahy.
He also said that "The conflict between the White House and the Senate over
controversial judicial nominees is unnecessary, and it would serve the country
far better to have nominees who do not divide the Senate and the American
people. I have been urging the President to work with the Senate for some
time. The Chairman was correct to recognize the role the Constitution envisions
for the Senate in the lifetime appointment of federal judges."