Bush lawyer rises through ranks for judgeship
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THURSDAY, MAY 23, 2002

A top aide to Attorney General John Ashcroft and a figure in an Iraqi loan scandal during the first Bush administration was nominated to a spot on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday.

Jay Bybee, 48, joined President Bush's team last winter to advise the Department of Justice on constitutional matters. With the support of Nevada's two senators, he might be able to leave his job as assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel as quickly as he took it.

The former University of Nevada Law School professor would then have a chance to mold decisions affecting tribes in a number of Western states. The court in recent years has upheld tribal authority in a number of high-profile cases only to be turned away by the Supreme Court.

Described as a conservative, Bybee's career in federal government reaches back to the Reagan administration, when he worked for the DOJ. But it was his days as a legal aide to C. Boyden Gray, the White House counsel during the term of President George H. W. Bush, that he might be most remembered for.

Bybee came under fire from Democrats for making phone calls to federal prosecutors investigating alleged loan fraud of senior Iraqi officials. Although the calls weren't disclosed until after he left his job, and well after the Persian Gulf conflict, he rejected obstruction of justice charges as "baloney."

Bybee, though, wouldn't return to politics for several years. He went onto a teaching job at the Louisiana State University Law School and eventually settled at UNLV prior to his recent appointment to work with Ashcroft.

In his current post, he's worked on a number of issues including terrorism. He also tried to convince Congress to preserve a multi-million wireless investment by Alaska Native corporations but the deal fell through at the end of the year before heading onto the Supreme Court.

Bush's judicial picks have hit snags in the Senate as Democrats delay hearings and actions on conservative nominees. There was no indication yesterday of his chances but both Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) welcomed his appointment.

If confirmed, Bybee would oversee cases in California, Nevada, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Guam. The 9th Circuit in recent years has dealt with Alaska Native subsistence, criminal jurisdiction on tribal lands, civil jurisdiction over non-Indians, application of discrimination laws to tribal governments, tribal sovereign immunity and taxation of Indian Country businesses.

In almost every instance, the court ruled in favor of tribes.

Relevant Links:
Office of Legal Counsel -

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