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Clinton Rips Senators on Judge

May 7, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton criticized Texas’ two Republican senators on Saturday for seeking to block his nomination of a Hispanic lawyer to a federal appeals court.

Sens. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison said Enrique Moreno of El Paso, Texas, a Harvard-educated lawyer in private practice since 1981, lacked the necessary experience to sit on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Clinton said in a statement that claim was ``unconscionable.″ He noted that Moreno won the top rating from the American Bar Association, which evaluates and reports on the professional qualifications of people being considered by the president for nomination to federal judgeships.

As Clinton left the White House en route to Arkansas on Saturday, he was asked by reporters if he thought the senators opposed Moreno because he is Hispanic.

``There are only two conceivable alternatives. That or they just don’t want to confirm any judges unless they are right-wing ideologues,″ Clinton said. ``It may be that they just want to use this opportunity to seize control of the judiciary again.″

Gramm and Hutchison, in a letter Friday to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which reviews judicial nominations, cited the unqualified rating that a Texas judicial advisory group had given Moreno.

The group, a collection of Texas attorneys appointed by Gramm and Hutchison to advise them on nominations, voted 10-5 against the nomination.

``It would be fair to summarize the views of those recommending against confirmation that Mr. Moreno simply had not achieved the level of experience necessary to be fully engaged and effective on a court one notch below the United States Supreme Court,″ they wrote Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

A spokesman for Gramm and Hutchison, asked to respond to Clinton’s comments, said their letter ``speaks for itself.″

Neither Gramm nor Hutchison is on the committee, so they were urging Hatch to reject the nomination. If the nomination were to reach the full Senate, the two senators could use a parliamentary procedure to delay a vote indefinitely.

The senators said they told Moreno of their opposition.

``Although we do so without prejudice to Mr. Moreno’s potential to be nominated for a federal judgeship in the future, we have conveyed our personal regret that it will not be possible for this nomination to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to go forward,″ they wrote Hatch.

Moreno, in a statement, said he was grateful to be nominated.

``I have been blessed with the support and encouragement of many people,″ he said. ``I am especially grateful and proud of my community’s support of my nomination.″

Moreno started his own practice in July after working in firms since 1981. He was nominated in September. He earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from Harvard.

Clinton has accused Senate Republicans of stonewalling his judicial nominees and has implied that that inaction is linked to the minority backgrounds of several appointees.

As of March, when two of Clinton’s more controversial appointees won Senate confirmation, there were 73 federal judicial vacancies, or about 10 percent of the national total.

The Senate in March confirmed Richard A. Paez and Marsha Berzon, both Hispanics. Paez had waited more than four years for a vote on his nomination, and Berzon waited two years.

The political vitriol became intense last fall when the Senate, along party lines, rejected a black nominee, Missouri State Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White, for a federal judgeship.

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