Senate Confirms Bush Court Pick

Times Staff Writer

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed J. Leon Holmes to the U.S. District Court in Arkansas after an emotional debate over the nominee’s positions on abortion, women’s rights, race and separation of church and state.

Holmes, whose appointment was approved 51 to 46, faced intense criticism from Democrats and quiet disapproval from some Republicans. Holmes has said that “the wife is to subordinate herself to the husband” and asserted, when arguing against abortion, that conceptions from rape were as rare as “snowfall in Miami.”

Six Democrats joined all but five Republicans in supporting Holmes’ nomination. Holmes is the first of President Bush’s most controversial judicial nominees to come to a floor vote in the Senate.


Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the top-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called Holmes one of the most “intolerant” nominees ever considered by the Senate. He accused Bush of nominating someone who would pursue his antiabortion agenda and other conservative causes from the bench.

“The White House is saying, ‘We don’t want an independent federal judge; we want someone who will be an arm of the Republican Party,’ ” Leahy said.

The two Democratic senators from Arkansas, Blanche Lambert Lincoln and Mark Pryor, supported the nominee, saying they had been convinced he was qualified for the job by many of Holmes’ colleagues in the state -- Democrats and Republicans alike.

Lincoln said she believed Holmes’ assurances to her that he was “willing and able to set aside his personal beliefs to fulfill his duties as a federal district judge.”

Tuesday’s vote was the result of a cease-fire between the parties over Bush’s judicial nominees. Senate Democrats have blocked three of Bush’s nominees with filibusters when Republicans could not muster the 60 votes necessary to cut off debate.

Early this year, Bush appointed two of his most controversial picks, Alabama Atty. Gen. William H. Pryor Jr. and Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. of Mississippi, to temporary positions on appeals courts while the Senate was in recess and had no opportunity to vote.


Bush agreed to make no more recess appointments, and Senate Democrats promised to let 25 of his nominees come to a vote. It had approved 24 nominees; Holmes, the most controversial, was the last.

The president’s agreement with Senate Democrats did not include three of Bush’s selections -- Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carolyn B. Kuhl, California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen -- for appellate court seats. Democrats continue to block confirmation votes on those nominees.

Miguel A. Estrada is Bush’s only judicial selection to withdraw his nomination, after Democrats blocked several efforts to stop their filibuster.

Republicans have accused Democrats of obstructing the judicial appointment process, but Democrats say Bush has placed judges at a faster clip than President Clinton. Clinton put 377 nominees into lifetime positions as judges during eight years in office; Bush has placed 198 judges in less than half the time.

Democrats questioned Holmes’ views on a variety of topics. The issues that grabbed the most attention had to do with abortion and women’s rights.

Some of the most ardent criticism concerned an article that Holmes and his wife wrote in 1997 for a church publication about Catholic teaching on the relationship between a man and woman. The article stated that “the woman is to place herself under the authority of the man.”


“As a woman, how can I possibly vote for someone to go on to a federal district court who believes women should be subordinate to men?” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). She worried aloud about how the judge’s view of women would affect his judgments in cases concerning employment discrimination and sexual harassment.

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) defended Holmes’ writings about marriage, which he said he shared, as do “a billion people.”

In a letter to Lincoln, Holmes said the Catholic teaching that he and his wife espoused was “not inconsistent with the equality of all persons, male and female.” He emphasized that his belief as expressed in that article was not “relevant to my conduct in my professional life, nor would it affect my conduct as a judge.”

In the same letter, Holmes apologized for a statement in a letter to the editor in the Moline (Ill.) Daily Dispatch in 1980 that “conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.” Senators quoted various sources that estimated there were about 30,000 pregnancies a year from rapes. “The articulation of that sentence reflects an insensitivity for which there is no excuse and for which I apologize,” Holmes said in the letter.

In addition to Lincoln and Pryor, the Democrats who voted for Holmes were Zell Miller of Georgia, John B. Breaux and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

The Republicans voting no were Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, John W. Warner of Virginia, and Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.