The in question The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans is the arbiter of the decisions of federal district courts in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. It is also one of the most conserva tive federal appellate courts in the nation. Currently serving on its pointees, four Clinton appointees, and one Carter appointee. Three of its seats are vacant, and last year Senior Judge Carolyn Dineen King declared a circuit emergency and opened the vacant seats to visiting judges. By Senate tradition, the Judiciary Committee will not hold hearings until it receives a “blue slip” from each of the state’s senators. Gramm and Hutchison are vetting Clinton’s appointees, and no appointee with a progressive past makes the cut. There was no blue slip for Rangel, who never had a hearing before the committee. Moreno is still waiting. Both Rangel and Moreno received unanimous “highly qualified” votes from the A.B.A. judicial selection committee that has evaluated all appointments to the federal bench since before Richard Nixon was in the White House. There is no higher ranking. But Gramm has set up his own “advisory committee” of select Texas to the federal bench. Of the fifteen members of the thirty-one lawyer committee who showed up to interview Moreno, ten voted against him and five voted for him. The committee cited Moreno’s lack of judicial experience as problematic, though seven of the fourteen judges currently serving on the Fifth Circuit never wore judicial robes until they arrived in New Orleans. Louis Dubose “The advisory group that recommended against Mr. Moreno is a select group of individuals handpicked by Senator Phil Gramm,” Al Kauffman wrote in an op-ed piece published in the San Antonio Express-News. “It is fundamentally unfair for the Senate to allow a senator’s reliance on this handpicked, closed-session, decisionmaking body to stand in the way of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate considering Mr. Moreno and his qualifications as the Constitution requires.” Phil Gramm, however, rarely heeds the advice of Kauffman, who is the regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. And it is Gramm who has slowed the process on Clinton’s appointments to the federal bench. “He’s a hard-edged partisan,” said Dallas Democratic Congressman Martin Frost. Frost described Hutchinson as being “more constructive in getting judges approved.” Faced with Gramm’s intractability, Moreno’s supporters intend to pressure Bush to take a position the nomination. “A governor doesn’t have to take a position on something like this. A presidential candidate does,” Dominguez said. “He professes a lot of commitment to Hispanics and the border community. He got a lot of mileage out of how well he did in El Paso [in the 1998 election]. We’re now telling him to show us something, don’t just show up here, eat tacos, and say a few words in Spanish.” Saenz is more direct: “People feel that Bush launched a national campaign by using El Paso. It was very calculated and I think it was very cynical. There is an election coming up. You don’t get to use us. You don’t get to say, ‘We love you Hispanics,’ and then shaft us. We’re not convinced that we’re so loved.” JUNE 9, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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