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Clinton accuses Senate of blocking his judicial nominations

'Judicial Appointments' graphic September 27, 1997
Web posted at: 1:25 p.m. EST (1825 GMT)

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (CNN) -- President Clinton accused Republicans Saturday of posing "a very real threat to our judicial system" by blocking the appointment of dozens of federal judges for political purposes.

"We can't let partisan politics shut down our courts and gut our judicial system," Clinton said during his weekly radio address.

Across the nation, 100 federal judgeships are vacant. The president said he has sent 70 nominations to the Senate this year, but lawmakers have acted on only 18 -- two of them Friday.

Last year, the Senate confirmed just 17 judges, which Clinton said was "the lowest election-year total in over 40 years." He accused the Republican-led Senate of deliberate stall tactics -- "the worst of partisan politics," he contended.

Clinton said the blocked nominations have delayed tens of thousands of civil cases, involving such matters as the collections of life insurance proceeds and Social Security benefits.

"Our courts are clogged with a rising number of cases," he said in the address, broadcast during a four-day Arkansas visit. "Our sitting judges are overloaded and overworked, and our judicial system is strained to the breaking point."

Under the U.S. Constitution, the Senate has the power to approve or reject the president's nominations for federal judges, who are granted lifetime tenure.

Republicans argue that the appointment of judges is more than just a numbers game, that senators are simply fulfilling their constitutional duties by rejecting candidates they believe are unfit for the job.

Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas said earlier this month that judges "need to be intimidated. They need to uphold the Constitution." If not, "We're going to go after them in a big way."


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