Senate confirms 2 California judges after more than 2-year wait
From CNN Capitol Hill Correspondent Chris Black and CNN Producer Lynda Loretic
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After waiting more than two years, two California judges were confirmed Thursday by the Senate to the federal appeals court.
The Senate confirmed Richard Paez and Marsha Berzon to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Fourteen Republicans joined all 45 Democratic senators to confirm the nomination of Paez by a 59-39 vote. Paez, a judge in the Central District of California, was nominated to the 9th Circuit Court on January 7, 1997. Paez had awaited confirmation longer than any other nominee.
Berzon, left, and Paez
"I am pleased and honored by the Senate's decision," Paez said in a written statement after his confirmation. "I would like to thank President Clinton and his entire administration for their unwavering support of my nomination. I would also like to thank Vice President Gore and all of the senators who spoke on my behalf and who voted for my confirmation today. I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to continue and extend my public service to the country."
By a 64-34 vote, the Senate confirmed Berzon, a lawyer in private practice in San Francisco. Berzon was nominated for the 9th Circuit in January 1998.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott announced Wednesday evening his decision to hold the vote on Thursday, prompting the vice president to cancel a planned campaign appearance in Minnesota so that he could be in Washington to cast a tie-breaking vote, if it had been needed.
"We have won an important victory for common sense," Gore said after the back-to-back votes. "They can now take their seats on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. We know they are eminently qualified; they are indeed outstanding jurists."
Gore noted "there are many other vacancies that have not yet been filled because of politics. It is inexcusable that the Republican Senate play politics with these crucial nominations."
Last month, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said that when it comes to the Senate acting on Clinton administration nominees, the numbers show that "it is harder for women and minorities (nominees) in the Republican-controlled Senate." Last summer, the Senate rejected an African-American nominee, Ronnie White of Missouri. Paez is Hispanic.
"We have dozens and dozens and dozens of judicial nominees up there waiting and we have a court system that's crying out for more judges," Lockhart said at the time.
Last month, Clinton charged that Republican senators were engaging in "deliberate slow walking" when it came to his nominees to the federal judiciary.
Officials in the Senate and the White House said Gore's abrupt return to Washington was necessary because they were not sure the judges would win approval.
An attempt by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, to delay the vote on Paez indefinitely was overwhelmingly defeated. Sessions had said the sentence that Paez had imposed on John Huang, a key figure in the Democratic fund-raising scandals, was too lenient.
The decision to schedule the vote was made after California Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, put a "hold" on the appointment of the mayor of Tupelo, Mississippi, Lott's home state, to the Tennessee Valley Authority, to protest the delay in Senate action on the California judges.
The two were among a number of female, Hispanic and African-American judges whose approval has been on hold pending scheduling decisions.
Lott eventually agreed to schedule the vote in return for Boxer's agreement to lift her "hold," which she did.