Court Choice Cleared With Democrats' Help
12-7 Vote Frustrates Liberal Groups
The Washington Post
Friday, May 24, 2002
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the
nomination of Judge D. Brooks Smith to a federal appeals
court yesterday with the crucial help of three Democrats
who defied an intense lobbying campaign against the nomination
by a coalition of liberal interest groups.
Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D Del.), Herb
Kohl (D Wis.) and John Edwards (D N.C.) joined the panel's
nine Republicans in voting for the nomination to the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, handing President
Bush an important victory in the ongoing battle over the
makeup of the federal judiciary.
Smith's opponents said they were disappointed
by the 12 to 7 vote but vowed to continue to fight the nomination
when it moves to the Senate floor. "We are going to
continue to battle," said Ralph G. Neas, president
of People for the American Way.
"The case [against Smith's nomination]
is overwhelming," added Douglas T. Kendall, executive
director of the Community Rights Counsel, a public interest
But conservative groups praised the committee
"The Judiciary Committee properly rejected
the false and misleading charges leveled against this decent,
highly qualified judge," said Sandy Rios, president
of Concerned Women for America.
Smith, 50, the chief judge of the U.S. District
Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, had attracted
the strongest opposition of any Bush judicial nominee since
the Judiciary Committee, on a straight 10 to 9 party line
vote in March, rejected the nomination of U.S. District
Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court
Smith's critics accused him of a serious
ethical lapse in the handling of one case and of espousing
an overly narrow view of the powers of the federal government.
They also said his decisions too often have sided with business
against the interests of others.
But the strongest criticism of Smith centered
on his membership in the Spruce Creek Rod and Gun Club,
a fishing and hunting organization that excludes women.
As part of his 1988 confirmation to the district court,
Smith promised the Judiciary Committee that he would resign
from the club if he failed to win a change in its bylaws
to admit women. Smith resigned from the club, which remains
closed to women, in 1999.
Laying out the Democratic case against Smith,
Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D Vt.) said
the judge had "flagrantly broken" his promise
to the committee. He said that to elevate him now to an
appeals court would send "a bad message." Leahy
and others also cited Smith's failure to recuse himself
immediately from a case involving a bank where his wife
worked and in which he had a substantial financial interest.
Yesterday's meeting took place in a subdued atmosphere.
Committee Republicans, apparently confident that they would
prevail, said little before the vote.
Of the three Democrats who supported Smith,
Biden's vote was the most surprising. He had vowed to "do
everything I can to defeat" the nomination if he thought
Smith was ducking questions.
Yesterday Biden said, "I'd like to vote
against this guy" but "I don't have a sufficient
reason" to do so. He said he would impose tougher standards
for Supreme Court nominees.