St. Louis Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow have placed holds on the nominations of two federal judges in Michigan in the aftermath of a Kansas senator's move to block the appointment of a third judge because of her appearance at a lesbian commitment ceremony.
Levin confirmed Friday that he and Stabenow put holds on the nominations of Grand Rapids lawyer Robert Jonker and Berrien County Circuit Judge Paul Maloney to the U.S. District Court in Michigan's Western District.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said earlier this month that he was holding up the nomination of Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Janet Neff to the federal bench, saying her presence at the 2002 ceremony in Massachusetts raised questions about her judicial philosophy.
President Bush nominated Neff along with Jonker and Maloney to fill three vacancies in Michigan as part of a compromise with Levin and Stabenow. Jonker and Maloney are considered conservative choices, while Neff was put forth by the two Democrats.
With Neff's nomination stalled, the two senators said they would block the other two nominations as a consequence.
"As we've said before, it was a package," Levin said in explaining his reason for the holds, procedural moves that allow a lone senator to stall a nomination.
Stabenow, who is seeking re-election against Republican Mike Bouchard, told The Grand Rapids Press' editorial board earlier this week that the three nominations were "a package." She defended Neff, saying the ceremony "was not an attempt to legally marry anyone."
A Stabenow spokeswoman declined further comment Friday.
In a written statement, Bouchard accused Stabenow of leading "the obstruction of qualified judges here in Michigan because she disagrees with their judicial philosophy." He called the developments on Neff's nomination "deeply concerning."
Neff told Brownback in an Oct. 12 letter released Thursday that a minister presided over the private ceremony, and it would not affect her ability to be impartial as a federal judge. Neff said the ceremony "had no legal effect" and she "had no authority to act in any official capacity."
Neff, however, declined to answer Brownback's questions on whether the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage or civil unions, saying it would be improper to address questions that might come before her as a federal judge.
A spokesman for Brownback said Neff didn't address the judicial philosophy questions to the senator's satisfaction.
All three of the judicial nominees have cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and are awaiting confirmation by the full Senate. Brownback sought to bring Neff back to the committee for a second hearing, but the request was denied by Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa.