WASHINGTON -- Republicans took a step yesterday toward a Senate confrontation over filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees by advancing two of the White House's favored candidates for prospective votes.
By sending Judge Priscilla Owen of the Texas Supreme Court and Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the California Supreme Court to the full Senate for confirmation to the federal bench, GOP senators now have two of the candidates they want to use to challenge the Democrats' threat to filibuster US Appeals Court candidates.
''We have now the vehicle. We have two qualified women. They have met every test," said Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas.
Owen is nominated for a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, and Brown is nominated to serve on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Democrats blocked them from lifetime seats on the nation's second- highest courts during Bush's first term, but they were renominated by the president after he won a second term in November.
Democrats -- who want to block the two women again -- agree that a confrontation with Senate majority leader Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, over whether to ban judicial filibusters is imminent following the strictly partisan votes in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Republicans are ''doing this as a prelude to setting up the greatest constitutional crisis that the Senate has faced," said Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York.
Frist has threatened to ban judicial filibusters to stop Democrats from blocking nominees, which Republicans say is against Senate tradition. It requires 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster, but only 51 votes to ultimately ban the procedure.
Senate minority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, has vowed to slow or halt Senate action on much routine business if the GOP bans judicial filibusters and forces up-or-down votes in which nominees could be confirmed by a bare majority.
Frist has been working to secure the 50 votes he needs from his 55-member Republican caucus to make the rules change. At least a half-dozen Republicans have not yet committed to his plan.
Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, denied reports he has urged Frist to go slow on the rules change. ''As far as the timing, that's up to the majority leader," he said.
Conservatives during the last Congress accused Democrats of being antiminority for blocking Brown, who is black, and antiwoman for blocking Owen.
Frist plans to deliver a taped message to Christian conservatives April 24 saying Democrats are ''against people of faith" for blocking Bush's nominees.
Democrats have condemned those attacks, saying they will block the nominees because they are too conservative.
''The nomination of Janice Rogers Brown is a prime example of a nominee who sees the federal bench as a platform to advance her own extremist views," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts.
Owen ''is an example of a judge who is very eager to make law from the bench," said Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat.
Republicans defended Owen and Brown.
Owen ''deserves the professional courtesy of an up-or-down vote," said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, who served with Owen on the Texas Supreme Court.
Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, Brown's native state, said Brown was the type of judge the country needs, who has ''a reverence for our Constitution."