Political Notebook

Obama’s appeals court pick blocked

May 20, 2011

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WASHINGTON — President Obama lost his first vote on a judicial nominee yesterday, as Senate Republicans derailed the nomination of a liberal professor who leveled acerbic attacks against two conservative Supreme Court nominees — both now justices.

Democrats fell short of the 60 votes they need to end a filibuster and give Goodwin Liu an up-or-down vote on his nomination to the San Francisco-based US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Liu is a 40-year-old legal scholar at the University of California’s Berkeley law school.

The vote was 52-43 to end debate, leaving Democrats eight votes short.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, had been pushing for a vote on Liu, who had been nominated three times for the appellate post.

Republicans have made Liu their prime example of a judicial nominee who, in their view, has been so unabashedly liberal in his writings and statements that he does not deserve an up-or-down vote.

The politics were reversed in 1987, when Democrats defeated Republican Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork by citing his conservative writings. Liberals said Bork was a conservative extremist, just as conservatives now say Liu is a liberal extremist. Bork’s nomination was defeated in an up-or-down vote 58-42.

In both cases, opponents argued the nominees would take their views with them to the bench, allowing those views to trump the Constitution.

To most Democrats and liberal backers, Liu is the type of nominee they want for a lifetime appointment on the federal bench. He supports liberal social issues such as gay marriage and affirmative action. He was given a top rating of unanimously well-qualified by the American Bar Association. He was a Rhodes Scholar and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He received numerous awards for academic and legal achievements, including the highest teaching award at his law school.

To most Republicans and conservative allies, he’s a judicial activist who made insulting remarks about the Supreme Court nominations of John Roberts, now the chief justice, and Samuel Alito.

— Associated Press

Lawmakers troubled by estimated fighter jet cost WASHINGTON — Estimates of the cost of the next-generation fighter jet are not believable, a senior Pentagon official said yesterday as he insisted the program’s price tag must be reined in for the military to purchase more than 2,400 aircraft for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.

Ashton Carter, who oversees acquisition, said there are no alternatives to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a stealthy aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin, and the Defense Department was working to make the program affordable.

The jet’s costs have increased 26 percent while its schedule has slipped five years due to design changes, problems with software development, and technical problems.

Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee expressed frustration with the program, the Pentagon’s largest acquisition effort. Ten years into the program, the cost has jumped from $233 billion to $385 billion. Recent estimates say the entire program could exceed $1 trillion over 50 years.

“We can’t afford to pay that much,’’ Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I don’t think we have to believe those estimates, and that’s our objective — to make sure that those estimates don’t come true and that we do have an affordable program.’’

— Associated Press

Extension worked out for key Patriot Act provisions WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders have worked out a deal for a four-year extension of several key provisions of the Patriot Act, with a little over a week remaining until the current measure extending the counterterrorism surveillance law is set to expire.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, and House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, reached agreement yesterday on an amendment-free extension of three major Patriot Act provisions until June 1, 2015, according to a senior Democratic aide.

The three provisions that are set to expire May 27 include one that authorizes the FBI to continue using roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; another that allows the government to access “any tangible items,’’ such as library records, in the course of surveillance; and a “lone wolf’’ provision that allows for the surveillance of targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.

— Washington Post