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Senate to Vote on Controversial Bush Judicial Nominee

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here in Washington, the Senate holds a key vote today on one of President Bush's most controversial appellate court nominees. Senate Democrats had blocked an up or down vote on Janice Rogers Brown's nomination for a seat on the Washington, DC, Circuit Court of Appeals, but it is virtually certain this outspoken conservative judge will not be filibustered this time. Brown is one of three court nominees being allowed a confirmation vote because of the deal struck last month to avert a showdown over judicial filibusters. NPR's David Welna has this report.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

To hear Senate Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist tell it on the Senate floor yesterday, 56-year-old Janice Rogers Brown is an ideal choice for a lifetime appointment to the second most powerful court in the nation.

Senator BILL FRIST (Republican Majority Leader): She's a woman of great accomplishment and great talent. She is tough, she's smart, she's principled. Her story is nothing short of remarkable from those humble beginnings of a sharecropper's daughter in segregated Alabama. Janice Rogers Brown has climbed to the peaks of her legal profession.

WELNA: Brown has served on California's Supreme Court for the last decade and was retained by a 76 percent vote in an unopposed election. But a fellow Californian, Democrat Barbara Boxer, pointed out that while on that court, Brown was the only justice who sought to overturn the conviction of a man who raped a 17-year-old woman. She also dissented from the court's Republican majority in seeking to allow cigarette sales to minors. And Brown opposed a court injunction ordering an employer not to use racial slurs against a Latino employee.

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): It isn't happy for me to have to go against someone from my own state. It isn't enjoyable for me to have to go against somebody who's a woman, whose life story is remarkable. It isn't easy for me to have to take a stand against a minority woman. And it isn't easy for every civil rights organization in this country to do the same.

WELNA: Boxer read a long list of civil rights groups who oppose Brown's nomination. And New York Democrat Charles Schumer, who opposed Brown this year on the judiciary committee, called her the least deserving of all President Bush's nominees to win confirmation.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): President Bush has said time and time again he wants judges who will not legislate from the bench. He said he wants strict constructionists in the mold of Antonin Scalia, but Janice Rogers Brown is no more a strict constructionist than I am the second baseman for the New York Yankees.

WELNA: Schumer said Brown, who's equated Roosevelt's New Deal with the Socialist revolution, is plainly a judicial activist, but Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions accused Democrats and groups on the left of taking Brown's comments out of context.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): And what she says politically somewhere in a speech somewhere is not important as long as her judicial philosophy is such, that she shows and has demonstrated that she will be faithful to the Constitution and to the law whether or not she agrees with it.

WELNA: Because of the truce agreed upon by seven Republicans and seven Democrats last month, there will not be enough Democratic votes today to keep Brown's nomination from coming to a vote on the Senate floor. But Democrats are urging their moderate Republican colleagues to consider opposing Brown in that final vote. And Arlen Specter, the Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, also urged his colleagues yesterday to seriously consider their constitutional duty to advise and consent on Brown's nomination.

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Judiciary Committee Chairman): Just as there is requirement of independence, if there is to be separation of power, then the party which controls the White House ought not to be an automatic rubber stamp for the president.

WELNA: Democrats are still holding out hope that they'll get six Republicans to join them in opposing Brown. They point out that the showdown-averting deal on nominations only called for an up or down vote on her, not her confirmation.

David Welna, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Later this week, the Senate is expected to consider another nomination, John Bolton, for UN ambassador. NPR White House correspondent David Greene writes about what's next in that fight on our Web site, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.