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Battle looms as Senate panel OKs two judicial nominees


WASHINGTON - The Senate moved closer yesterday to a constitutional confrontation over how to choose federal judges after a committee approved two of President Bush's controversial judicial nominees and sent them to the floor for confirmation.

In the coming days, Republican leaders are expected to decide whether to bring one of those nominees up for a vote. Members of both parties expect such a move would trigger a parliamentary battle so potentially explosive, it has become known as the "nuclear option."

Democrats plan to filibuster either of the nominees - California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen- and Republicans say they would retaliate by trying to change the rules of the Senate to bar use of the filibuster to oppose judicial nominations.

In response, Democrats say they would bring much of the chamber's work to a halt.

Republican leaders signaled that the conflict could come to a head soon, perhaps as early as next week. The decision belongs to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, who will decide when to place the judges' nominations on the Senate agenda. "Next week is a possibility, but the senator hasn't made a decision yet," said a Republican leadership aide who requested anonymity.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted strictly along party lines to approve the nominations of the two judges to the federal appellate bench. All 10 committee Republicans voted for the pair; all eight Democrats on the panel voted against them. Democrats accuse both judges of being "extremists" and "judicial activists" whose legal decisions are based more on conservative ideologies than the merits of cases.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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