WASHINGTON - The Senate voted yesterday to confirm California's Janice Rogers Brown to a seat on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a position that could place her on President Bush's short list of potential Supreme Court nominees.
Brown - praised by Republicans for judicial restraint, denounced by Democrats as a conservative ideologue - was confirmed by a vote of 56-43. Only one Democrat - Sen. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat - a conservative who often votes with Republicans - crossed party lines to support her nomination.
The nomination process for Brown, a justice on the California Supreme Court, stretched over nearly two years. It came to symbolize two fiercely opposing forces in Washington: the president's determination to curb what conservatives see as the federal judiciary's intrusion into social issue, and the Democrats' equal determination to resist him.
Bush praised the Senate vote in a brief statement, describing Brown as "a brilliant and fair-minded jurist who is committed to the rule of law."
Brown, the first African-American woman to sit on the state Supreme Court, will become the second to sit on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Initially nominated to the federal bench in July 2003, Brown was one of 10 appellate court nominees Democrats blocked in Bush's first term, describing them as "extremists." Unlike previous presidents who often let controversial nominations lapse, Bush took the unusual step of re-nominating seven of the 10, including Brown, earlier this year.
During the Senate debate, Republicans described Brown as a judge who displayed "restraint" in applying the law. However, Democrats insisted that she was a conservative "activist" who infused her court rulings with personal political views.
"Whether one is from the left or the right, this nominee should be rejected," Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid of Nevada said before the vote. "We should reject all nominees who twist the law to their own ideological bent."
Because it considers cases that involve the government that examine federal issues, the District of Columbia appellate court is considered the second-highest court in the country and is frequently a judicial steppingstone to the Supreme Court.
"There's no doubt she'll be on any future Republican short list for the Supreme Court as a conservative African-American woman," said Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice, an advocacy group that promotes the president's conservative judicial nominees. "It's the very knowledge of this that explains why she has been opposed with such fervor by the left."
Brown, who has served on the California Supreme Court since 1996, was the second of three judges whose filibusters came to an end as a result of a private pact between a group of moderate Republicans and Democrats last month.
The first was former Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen, who was sworn in this week to the federal court of appeals in New Orleans.
The third is expected to be former Alabama Atty. Gen. William Pryor, whose confirmation vote for a seat on the appellate court in Atlanta is scheduled for today, along with two less contentious nominees to the federal appeals court in Cincinnati. The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.