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US Senate to Vote on Judge at Heart of Filibuster Deal

The U.S. Senate Tuesday prepared to vote on one of President Bush's long-stalled judicial nominees, a day after a group of bipartisan Senators reached a compromise averting a showdown on the nominations.

The Senate voted to end debate on the nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen for a seat on the federal appeals court, clearing the way for her confirmation.

The action was made possible by a deal brokered Monday night by a bipartisan group of 14 Senators. 

Justice Owen, first nominated by Mr. Bush four years ago, is one of a number of judicial nominees blocked by Democrats who argued they were so conservative as to be out of the mainstream.

Before the compromise was reached, Senate Republican leader Bill Frist had scheduled a vote Tuesday to ban the use of the filibuster, or delaying tactics, for judicial nominees, and move toward a confirmation vote on Justice Owen.  Democrats, denouncing the plans as a power grab by majority Republicans, pledged to use other procedural moves to slow the work of the Senate.

Under the deal, Democrats agreed to allow up-or-down votes on three of five contested judicial nominees, including Justice Owen, and vowed not to use the filibuster except in extraordinary circumstances.

Republicans agreed not to change Senate rules on the use of the filibuster during the rest of the congressional term, through the end of next year.

Both sides called on the White House to consult with Congress on future nominees.

Although President Bush does not get the up-or-down votes he wanted for all his judicial nominees, he welcomed the deal during a visit to Rochester, New York.

"I'm pleased that the Senate is moving forward on my judicial nominees who were previously being blocked.  The nominees have been waiting years for an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor and now they will get one.  It is about time we are making some progress," said Mr. Bush.

It is not clear how long the compromise will endure.   It could have an impact on future Supreme Court nominations, with a retirement expected later this year.

The 14 Senators who brokered the deal say the agreement is based on faith and goodwill.  Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, played a key role in the compromise:

"This agreement was meant in the finest traditions of the Senate it was entered into:  trust, respect, and mutual desire to see the institution of the Senate function in ways that protect the rights of the minority," said Mr. McCain.

Majority Leader Frist, a potential presidential contender in 2008 who was under pressure from conservatives to guarantee votes on all of Mr. Bush's judicial nominees, said the deal was modest progress.  But, noting that he was not a party to the agreement, said he would not rule out banning the filibuster for judicial nominees if the Democrats did not abide by their end of the bargain.

"I will bring it out once again, and once again I will set a date to use it, if that is what it takes to move this body forward, we will do that once again," said Mr. Frist.

Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid, who was also not a party to the deal, did not rule out blocking future judicial nominees put forward by Mr. Bush.

"There will be filibusters of judges and other things, that is what the Senate is all about," said Mr. Reid.

Mr. Reid suggested Democrats may also use the filibuster to block Mr. Bush's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, whose nomination could come before the Senate later this week. Democrats have criticized Mr. Bolton for efforts to shape intelligence to meet ideological ends.

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