Robert Novak

While not happy with Frist, conservatives view Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter as a bigger problem. Specter, never attuned to national Republican concerns, has shown less interest in confirming conservative judges than in intelligence controversies, asbestos law reform and voting rights extension. But one Judiciary Committee conservative (who asked that his name not be used) rated Specter and Frist as 10 percent of the problem and the White House 90 percent -- especially Harriet Miers, Bush's pal from Texas and failed first choice to be the last Supreme Court nominee.

As White House counsel, Miers has been criticized on Capitol Hill for the caliber of some recent nominees and the lethargic pace of appointments. She wanted her friend, Columbia Law School professor Debra Livingston, named to the prestigious District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. Conservatives blocked Livingston as undependable. Instead, Bush on June 29 nominated conservative Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler for the D.C. circuit. However, Miers maneuvered Livingston to a seat on the New York-based 2nd Circuit.

Beyond the White House, Republicans are in disarray on judges. Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the conservative signers of the June 16 letter, is under fierce attack from the right for opposing Bush's nomination of Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes to the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va., because of his role in handling terrorist detainees. In response, Graham has contended Haynes and two other embattled nominees (whom he supports) are "wounded" and asked for new, better-qualified choices.

Despite recent nominations and confirmations, it seems too late for a Senate battle to impact the midterm campaign. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy must sigh in relief. His grand design to block Bush's judicial nominees was a fiasco, handing Republicans a major 2004 campaign issue and leading to confirmation of two conservative Supreme Court justices. It is the last issue Kennedy wants to engage before the 2006 campaign, and Republicans are granting his desires.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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