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Judicial nomination languishes nine months without Senate hearing

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WASHINGTON – Rosemary Marquez’s nomination to a judgeship on the backlogged U.S. District Court for Arizona has languished nine months without a hearing, even as other nominees have breezed to confirmation.

While Senate Democrats on Wednesday accused administration opponents of stalling judicial nominations because of politics, Arizona Sen. John McCain offered a simpler reason for the delay on Marquez: She is not qualified, an opinion he said he shares with fellow Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl.

“I’ve been working with Sen. Kyl, but we do not feel at this time that she’s qualified,” McCain said Wednesday.

He said they have been working hard to fill vacant judgeships, but that senators “also have the responsibility of screening those judges as to whether we think that they should be appointed or not.”

Kyl could not be contacted Wednesday, but said in an interview earlier this month that Marquez’s nomination was “up to the Justice Department.”

“I support all … vacancies being filled as soon as they can,” he said then.

But McCain’s comments brought an angry response from Marquez’s supporters, who suggested in the past that her nomination was being intentionally delayed.

“It’s as disingenuous as it gets, even in politics, for these senators to claim she is not qualified,” Robert Raben, chairman of the Hispanic National Bar Association’s endorsement committee, said in an email.

“She’s got tremendous credentials, a lot of experience,” Raben said, citing an American Bar Association review and an FBI background check that Marquez went through for the White House nomination.

Marquez was nominated to fill one of two vacancies on the 13-judge district court bench in Arizona, currently one of the nation’s busiest.

The Tucson attorney was nominated by the president in June with Jennifer Guerin Zipps, who was confirmed in October. Marquez still has not had a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Committee staff said hearings are typically not scheduled until home-state senators submit “blue slips,” forms that give the go-ahead for a hearing without necessarily endorsing the nominee. They said neither Kyl nor McCain, both Republicans, has turned in a slip for Marquez.

Marquez was admitted to the Arizona bar in 1993 and worked in the Federal Public Defender’s office before going into private practice in 2000, according to a questionnaire she submitted to the committee.

The American Bar Association rated her as “unanimously qualified” and the Hispanic Bar, among others, has endorsed her.

In a state where a judicial emergency was declared last year and courts are struggling to keep pace, the need to fill judicial vacancies is even more pressing, court watchers said.

“We desperately need a new judge,” said Walter Nash, an attorney with Nash & Kirchner in Tucson, in an interview this month. “We needed it months ago.”

McCain said he relies “to a large degree” on the judgment of Kyl, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee. He noted that he and Kyl have approved “almost all” of Obama’s judicial nominees.

But Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., accused some senators Wednesday of bringing politics into play in judicial nominations.

“It’s damaging to the federal judiciary when they use it as pawns for other things,” said Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman. “It’s demeaning to the court and demeaning to the individual.”

Leahy noted that many of Obama’s nominees are minority candidates, which makes delay even more unfortunate.

“I want the courts to be more reflective of the people that come before the courts,” he said.

McCain denied political motives behind the Marquez nomination and praised Kyl for being “very fair and not biased . . . just because it’s a Democratic president.” But he said Wednesday that he believes there are many others who are more qualified for the position than Marquez.

If that’s true, said Tucson attorney Greg Kuykendall, then why not hold a nomination hearing and let the chips fall where they may?

“A host of other people find her to be superbly qualified, so open it up to debate. What’s there to hide?” asked Kuykendall of Kuykendall & Associates.

He said in an earlier interview that there is a lack of Mexican-Americans on the federal bench and that rejecting Marquez is “really a slap in the face.”

“I think it’s really unfortunate that they would hold up a qualified nominee and not allow a vote on her,” he said. “If they think that there’s something unqualified about her, then they should open it up to discussion.”