The Bush administration and opposition Democrats in Congress appear headed on a collision course over the nominations of federal judges. Democrats blocked the nomination of 10 federal judges during the president's first term and both sides are preparing for another major political battle over the issue in his second term.
Under the U.S. Constitution the president has the responsibility to nominate federal judges, including Supreme Court justices. But the nominees must be confirmed by the Senate as part of its advise and consent powers granted under the Constitution.
The president and his supporters in the Republican-controlled Senate are growing impatient over the Democrats' insistence on blocking judicial nominees whom they say are politically extreme.
"I believe that some senators are doing this because they do not appreciate the fact that I named judges who will faithfully interpret the law, not legislate from the bench," he said. "They apparently want activist judges who will rewrite the law from bench."
Democrats counter that while they blocked 10 judicial nominees during the president's first term, 214 others were approved by the Senate.
New York Democrat Charles Schumer is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which holds hearings on all the nominees before they are voted on by the full Senate.
"When the president sends us a radical and regressive nominee, one so far out of the mainstream he cannot even see the shoreline, we as senators have no choice but to return to sender, once, twice or 10 times if need be," he said.
With neither side backing down, political moderates in both parties are expressing alarm.
"And I have talked to many of my colleagues about this issue and I sense a lot of concern among both Republicans and Democrats to try to avoid the controversy if we can," said Republican Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "But no one wants to back down and no one wants to lose face."
Political activists on both the left and right are also bringing pressure to bear on the Senate.
Liberal groups are warning Democrats not to support any Bush nominees that are deemed too conservative.
Likewise, conservative activists are putting pressure on Republican senators to stand by the president's nominees.
Pat Robertson, a longtime religious broadcaster, says nominating conservative judges is the number-one issue of concern for conservative Christian voters.
"I think that most of the moral problems that we are facing involve individual lives," he said. "But I do think that regulation of them should be in the hands of elected representatives that are responsible to the people and not un-elected judges that are responsible, essentially, to nobody."
Political and legal experts say the issue of judicial nominations has become much more political in recent years, particularly as courts deal more often with controversial social issues like homosexual marriage.
"My perception is that conservatives and the Republican base [voters] feel like things are slipping more and more and more out of their control, which is making them more and more aggressive about fighting for these sorts of things," said Todd Zywicki, a professor at George Mason University Law School in Virginia.
Liberal activists say they are fighting the president's nominees because they fear conservative judges would seek to overturn laws in the areas of abortion, civil rights, and the environment.
"When one party decides it wants to nominate people to the federal bench to accomplish political results, it is only natural that the other party is going to oppose those nominations," said William Marshall, an expert on the judicial nomination process at the University of North Carolina. "Because what has happened is that the fight over the federal courts has turned away from nominations based on quality to those based on ideology, and that opens up the battle on both sides."
The Senate will soon vote on some of the president's judicial nominees. Democrats are vowing to use delaying tactics to defeat the candidates they oppose, while Republicans say they might change the rules to make it easier to get the president's nominees confirmed.