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Bush drops 4 embattled judicial nominees

WASHINGTON—After years of struggling to push controversial judicial nominees through a Republican-controlled Senate, President Bush acknowledged Tuesday that if he can't get his nominees through his own party, he has no chance among the Democrats.

Bush declined Tuesday to rename four controversial nominees to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Three nominees withdrew, but U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle of North Carolina refused, saying in an interview Tuesday that it wasn't his place.

"I didn't quit," said Boyle, whose case may be the longest nomination-in-waiting in U.S. history. He was first nominated for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush and was nominated six more times by the current President Bush.

"In terms of me throwing in the towel or quitting, that's not what I'm going to do," Boyle said. "I'm not going to let them beat me down."

Bush received withdrawal letters from William Haynes, the Pentagon's top legal counsel, and William G. Myers III, of Boise, Idaho. Another nominee, Michael Wallace of Jackson, Miss., announced his withdrawal last month.

Bush's decision shocked neither the nominees nor observers.

"Of course not," Boyle said. "I watched the election returns. How could you not be confirmed with a 10-vote majority and expect to be confirmed when you're in the minority?"

Still, Bush renominated the men in mid-November, just after Democrats narrowly won control of the U.S. Senate in midterm elections. The renominations came after months of threats from Democrats to filibuster Boyle and Haynes if then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist brought their names to the floor for a vote.

"If you can't confirm nominees when you have a 55-45 majority, it's unlikely you'll confirm them when the other party's in the majority," said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that Bush made "the right decision."

The controversies took up valuable time last year, Leahy said, and impeded progress on other judicial nominees.

Now, Leahy said in a statement, Congress can start over and move beyond "political game-playing."

"The White House saw the writing on the wall," said Leslie Proll, director of the Washington office for the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund, which fought the nominations. "With the Democrats in charge, the chances were not good."

Bush's decision also was a victory for Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a military lawyer. Graham opposed Haynes' appointment because of Haynes' role in formulating tough interrogation techniques for accused terrorist detainees as Defense Department general counsel.

"I appreciate Mr. Haynes' service to our country and know this is a difficult decision," Graham said. "Now is the time for us to push ahead and fill vacancies on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ... with solid conservative and confirmable nominees."

In a Dec. 19 letter to Bush, obtained Tuesday by McClatchy Newspapers, Haynes asked the president to withdraw his name from consideration.

"It is not at all clear that any vote would be forthcoming in the 110th Congress and, absent such a vote, you would lose the opportunity to fill the judicial vacancy for which you nominated me," Haynes wrote.

Myers' nomination had received a tepid endorsement from the American Bar Association's review panel and was opposed by environmental groups. Myers, a former Interior Department lawyer and a lobbyist for cattle and mining interests, had compared federal public lands policy to King George III's reign over colonial America.

Wallace, a native of Biloxi, Miss., was found unanimously by the American Bar Association review board to be "not qualified." The ABA committee praised Wallace's intellect and integrity but failed him on "judicial temperament." The ABA, which routinely grades judicial nominees, hadn't unanimously found an appeals court nominee unqualified in 24 years.

Wallace's Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in September was dominated by the ABA rating, with Republicans questioning the bar association's motives and Democrats questioning Wallace's suitability for a lifetime appointment.

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(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Maria Recio contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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