GREGORY finally to get confirmation hearing in Senate Judiciary

Wednesday, July 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ One of President Bush's first U.S. Appeals Court nominees is finally getting a Senate confirmation hearing _ two months after his name was submitted.

But two months probably seems like just a short nap for U.S. Appeals Court Judge Roger Gregory, coming up Wednesday as the first Bush nominee to face the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In a sense, he has been waiting since July 2000, when President Clinton first put his name forward, to plead his case for a permanent federal judgeship.

``I look forward to serving with integrity and distinction,'' Gregory said back in December.

Gregory is the first black judge to serve on the 4th Circuit, which covers North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. There are more minorities in the circuit than in any other federal jurisdiction.

The former Richmond, Va., lawyer probably owes his nomination hearing to a feud between Democrats and North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, a Republican.

Clinton tapped Gregory for the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in late June 2000 after Helms repeatedly refused to allow Clinton nominees from North Carolina to go through the Senate.

Helms reportedly blocked Clinton nominees because he was angry that Democrats blocked one of his former aides, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle, from the Appeals Court seat after former President Bush nominated him in 1991.

Senate tradition allows senators an effective veto over judicial nominees from their home states.

But Gregory is from Virginia and had the support of his senators, Republicans John Warner and George Allen. However, Gregory got no hearing from the GOP-controlled Senate last year.

Clinton then gave him a temporary appointment to the court in December. Bush renominated him for a permanent seat in May, and the newly Democrat-controlled Senate is making him the first Bush nominee to get a hearing.

``Judge Gregory is a good choice for the first hearing, because he has bipartisan support, he has been nominated by two presidents and he already is serving on the court,'' Senate Judiciary Committee spokesman David Carle said last week.

The North Carolina feud may not be over. The 15-judge 4th Circuit, which hears federal appeals from its five Southeastern states, currently has no judges from North Carolina, the largest.

Bush renominated Boyle as well as Gregory, but North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, a Democrat, now has threatened to block him in retaliation for Helms blockage of the Clinton nominees.

Edwards, appointed Tuesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee, has not decided whether to block Boyle and continues to talk to the White House, spokesman Michael Briggs said Tuesday.

Edwards has suggested several compromises to end the standoff, including nomination of a second 4th Circuit judge from North Carolina more to his liking.

The White House already has interviewed two: Rich Leonard, a North Carolina bankruptcy judge, and James Wynn, a state appeals court judge. Both were previously blocked by Helms during the Clinton administration.

Republicans earlier had planned to send Gregory and Boyle through together to keep Democrats from sinking his nomination _ ``We can't have political games played with these judges,'' said then-Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. The new Senate Judiciary chairman, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., changed the confirmation order when he took over the committee.

Also receiving confirmation hearings Wednesday will be U.S. District Court nominees Richard Cebull and Sam Haddon, both of Montana, and Eileen O'Connor of Maryland for assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's tax division.

Bush also submitted three more judicial nominations to the Senate Tuesday: James E. Gritzner for district judge for the Southern District of Iowa, Michael J. Melloy of Iowa for the 8th Circuit Court, and Michael P. Mills for U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Mississippi.