Cheney promotes Venetie foe for judgeship
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Nearly a year after President Bush made his first nominations to the federal bench, only three of his initial picks have received a hearing in the Senate, Vice President Dick Cheney said on Monday.

Calling the delay "inexcusable," Cheney blamed the holdup on the Democrat-controlled Senate, which has approved a number of picks to the federal judiciary but not nearly enough to satisfy the Bush administration. "As a matter of respect for the judicial branch and courtesy to the executive branch -- and simple fairness to the nominees themselves -- the Senate should do its duty," he said.

In addition to the comments made by Cheney, the White House characterized the issue as a "crisis" and noted that vacancies have increased since President Bush took office in January 2001. There are 96 open seats throughout the nation, according to a fact sheet released to coincide with a groundbreaking for a new federal courthouse in Washington, D.C.

"Perhaps this construction project, within sight of the Capitol, will stir the Senate, and cause new judges to arrive here," joked Cheney at the ceremony.

But the stakes are no laughing matter to the White House and the Senate. Bush has openly pushed for a more conservative and judicially restrained bench, while Democrats, in their rejection of U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering to a federal appeals court, have shown that such nominees are in for a fight.

One of those picks is John G. Roberts Jr., whose name garnered mention yesterday. A partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Hogan & Hartson, Roberts was named to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals last May but hasn't gotten a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Given a "well qualified" rating by colleagues, Roberts, a former clerk to conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, indeed has an impressive track record. This past term, he won a unanimous ruling before the High Court limiting the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act and argued another to support environmental restrictions on development.

Alaska Native leaders, however, may better remember him from other Supreme Court cases. On behalf of the state of Alaska, he won a 1998 unanimous decision in the Venetie case which said land owned by the Neets’aii Gwich’in Tribe was not considered "Indian Country."

In another pleadings before the Nine Justices, he wasn't as lucky. Arguing for the state of Hawaii, his loss in the Rice v. Cayetano case paved the way for Native Hawaiian programs to be opened to non-Natives.

Incidentally, Solicitor General Ted Olson, who was confirmed narrowly by the Senate, represented white rancher Harold "Freddy" Rice in the lawsuit. Olson's fellow partner at the Washington, D.C. law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Miguel Estrada, has also been nominated to the same court as Roberts but has received no hearing.

The D.C. court last year rejected the Department of Interior's appeal of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) case and upheld oversight by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth.

Related Documents:
Cheney's Remarks at Groundbreaking (4/8) | White House Fact Sheet (4/8)

Get the Alaska v. Venetie Case:
Syllabus | Opinion

Get the Rice v. Cayetano Case:
Syllabus | Opinion | Concurrence Dissent (Stevens) | Dissent (Ginsburg)

Nominee Background:
Bush Nominees to Federal Bench (The Washington Post 5/9)

Relevant Links:
District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals -
Hogan & Hartson -
Native Hawaiians, Department of Interior -
More on Rice v. Cayetano:

Related Stories:
Venetie foe given 'well-qualified' rating (6/27)
Senate confirms Olson as Solicitor General (5/25)
Bush nominee no stranger to court battles (5/23)
Bush names judges to Montana federal court (5/22)
Bush nominee familiar with Indian law (5/9)