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Lee may vote against Utah judicial nominee

Published March 13, 2012 7:33 pm

Senator backs magistrate but is protesting Obama's recess appointment.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • Sen. Mike Lee hinted Tuesday he might vote against a judicial nominee from his own state — a nominee that he supports — out of frustration with Majority Leader Harry Reid's move to force confirmation votes on a series of federal court hopefuls.

Lee has waged a lonely war against all of President Barack Obama's federal nominees after the White House used a controversial recess appointment to install the head of a new consumer-watchdog agency while the Senate was technically in session.

The Utah Republican wouldn't say Tuesday whether he would vote for or against Magistrate David Nuffer, who has been nominated to fill a vacancy in the Utah federal district, which has been labeled a "judicial emergency" by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

"Because of the issues I've got with the president's unconstitutional abuse of the recess-appointment power, I've acknowledged that I'll be voting differently," Lee said just off the Senate floor. "But I have not made a practice of announcing in advance of any one vote how I'm going to vote."

Lee said he supports Nuffer — the nominee was approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee — but objects to the Senate majority leader's effort to push through 17 judicial picks, including Nuffer.

"He should have had a vote months ago," Lee said. "I don't know why he hasn't, but Senator Reid controls the floor."

The office of Reid, a Nevada Democrat, did not respond to a request for comment, but White House Council Kathy Ruemmler said in a conference call that opposition for opposition's sake and not for reasonable objections was "frankly ridiculous."

"This literally could be done in a matter of minutes, and it should be done. There's no reason it can't be done," Ruemmler said.

The White House's lawyer added that concern about recess appointments is a separate issue from that of judicial nominations.

"What we're talking about here is the federal courts and the third branch of government and the responsibility of both other branches of government to ensure that those seats are filled," she said.

Lee blasted Reid's move in a statement this week, calling it a "political stunt" to distract Americans from the "Democrats' legislative failures."

"His sudden interest in judicial nominations is a desperate attempt to draw attention away from his party's failure to address our nation's economic emergencies," Lee said.

Lee has been joined by a few senators in voting against administration nominees. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said recently he would follow Lee's lead and object to each and every judicial nominee until Obama pulls back his recess appointments.

"Unless he revokes his unprecedented recess appointments that defied the constitutional role of Congress, I don't intend to support any of his judicial nominees this year," DeMint told McClatchy Newspapers last week.

Many Republicans, though, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, have cautioned that blanket opposition to all nominees as a form of protest is going too far.

tburr@sltrib.com