Senator in Flap Over Nominee

By E.B. Solomont

Published July 08, 2005, issue of July 08, 2005.
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A conservative activist is coming under fire for claiming that a Jewish senator is blocking an Arab American judicial nominee because of his ethnicity.

Victoria Toensing, a Washington attorney who sometimes speaks on behalf of the conservative judicial advocacy group Committee for Justice, reportedly accused Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, of “executing a vendetta” against Judge Henry Saad of Michigan. She noted that the Democratic senator from Michigan is Jewish and Saad is Arab American.

The accusation — reported July 1 in The Washington Post — marks a new chapter in the opposition that Saad, a Michigan Court of Appeals judge, has faced from Democrats since President Bush nominated him to the Sixth Circuit Court in November 2001.

But with no evidence that Levin’s opposition is ethnically based, critics are describing Toensing’s criticism as a deliberate smear against Levin in an attempt to discredit his opposition to Saad’s confirmation.

“The Conservative right have been using this tactic on various nominees,” said Ira N. Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “They take any questioning or opposition to those nominees…to say that the Democrats who are opposing are somehow bigoted, racist, antisemitic.”

Even officials at the Committee for Justice rejected the claim that Levin is motivated by an ethnic bias. They said that Toensing is not officially associated with the advocacy group.

Arab-Americans also rejected the bias claim.

“Knowing Carl Levin for years, as a friend and as an elected official, he is way beyond a statement like that. On the contrary,” said Imad Hamad, regional director of Michigan’s Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Toensing did not return calls seeking comment.

Levin, along with fellow Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, has played a pivotal role in blocking Saad’s judicial promotion. Following a bipartisan compromise on long-filibustered judges in late May, several previously stalled nominees — including William Pryor, Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown — were confirmed last month. Saad, as well as William Myers of Idaho, is still being blocked.

According to spokespeople for both Levin and Stabenow, the senators oppose Saad’s nomination in particular because his “judicial temperament falls below the standard of nominees to the second-highest court in the country.”

A spokeswoman for Stabenow pointed to Saad’s record as an attorney, defending employers in employee-claims suits, and said that his higher courts have often reversed his judicial decisions. The Stabenow spokeswoman also highlighted an e-mail circulated by Saad that referred disparagingly to Stabenow, as well as potentially more serious, undisclosed details about Saad that have turned up in a routine background check of judicial nominees by the FBI.

Committee for Justice officials criticized the effort to block Saad’s nomination, though they rejected Toensing’s claims about bias.

“Senator Levin is still upset by the fact that his cousin-in-law, Helene White,” a judicial nominee who is married to Levin’s cousin, “was not confirmed during the Clinton administration,” said Sean Rushton, executive director of Committee for Justice. “If there’s any vendetta, that’s the vendetta.”

Hamad refrained from criticizing Levin at all, though he said that many Arab Americans would like to see an Arab-American judge on a high-level bench. “They see it as an overdue right and privilege to serve our great nation,” he said. Hamad added: “At the same time, we stress that ethnicity is not the only reason for it. We would like to see an Arab American judge who is fair and open minded, whose record speaks for itself.”

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