The Senate was expected to confirm former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor's nomination to the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, a move that, if taken, would continue the momentum established in approving President Bush's long-delayed judicial nominees. Late Wednesday, California Judge Janice Rogers Brown, whose nomination Democrats staunchly opposed, was approved to serve on the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit. Their confirmations, along with that of Priscilla Owen last month, would take care of the first part of an agreement among Senate centrists to avoid a fight over filibusters.

Bush was scheduled to visit the Ohio Patrol Training Academy in Columbus to lobby for congressional renewal of portions of the Patriot Act, which is due to expire at year's end. The academy helped to investigate the case of a Columbus truck driver who allegedly received instructions from terror leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for what investigators believe may have been more 9/11-style attacks in New York and Washington. The White House claims the Patriot Act is a crucial tool in terrorism cases and needs strengthened FBI surveillance and law-enforcement powers. Opponents argue the act erodes civil liberties.

Closing arguments in a monthslong government case against a handful of major US tobacco companies were expected Thursday. Federal prosecutors originally sought $130 billion over 25 years to fund a proposed stop-smoking program in the case, which alleges the companies conspired to deceive the public about the health risks of smoking. On Wednesday, however, the government surprised observers by asking for only a five-year, $10 billion program as a penalty. No explanation was immediately provided.

An estimated 41.3 million Hispanics constitute one-seventh of the US population and accounted for half its growth between 2003 and 2004, the Census Bureau reported. The bureau said the latter trend will probably continue because of immigration and a higher-than-average Hispanic birth rate. The population growth for Asians ran a close second.

The economy seems to be on "reasonably firm footing," with inflation "contained," Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told the Joint Economic Committee of Congress in his most extensive remarks on the subject since February. The Fed, which has raised interest eight times in the past year, is expected to bump it another quarter of a point, to 3.25 percent, when it meets June 29-30.

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