Judgment on Picking Judges

Last week, Senate Democrats and Republicans resolved a two-month delay in voting on the dozens of presidential nominees for the federal bench. The tradeoff: The GOP will get 25 noncontroversial conservatives as judges, while five nominees Democrats found most objectionable will not move forward.

President Bush even agreed not to use his constitutional power to make recess appointments to the bench while Congress is out of session, an action he's taken twice. No one involved in the deal could recall a time when a sitting president made such a compromise.

Two controversial judges that he did appoint - William Pryor and Charles Pickering - are required to leave their posts anyway after the current congressional term. Recess appointments, a convenience of earlier times when Congress didn't meet as often, and transport and communication links were slow, ought not to be part of modern appointmentmaking.

The agreement, a byproduct of the closely divided Senate, lasts only until the next president is sworn in. As if to show its good faith, the Senate immediately confirmed Marcia Cooke (Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's former inspector general) as a federal judge by a 96-0 vote.

The deal temporarily ends the hardball tactics - mainly the threat of a filibuster - used by both sides for years in the nominating process. A permanent solution might require that the minority party let each nominee face an up-or-down vote in the Senate. Too many nominees wait months while Senate members grandstand or use blocking techniques. Meanwhile, justice suffers as courts face delays due to a shortage of judges.

The longer-term solution is for Congress and state legislatures to reclaim their role in solving the nation's biggest problems, instead of leaving this work to the courts. That shift would help reduce the often-bitter Senate conflict over judge selection.

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