Thomas B. Griffith

WASHINGTON — As was long expected, President Bush has nominated Thomas B. Griffith — general counsel for Brigham Young University — to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

That court is often considered the nation's second highest because of special jurisdiction it has over many federal government lawsuits — and because many of its justices have been promoted to the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, Griffith's nomination comes close in time to a presidential election — when the Senate Judiciary Committee traditionally slows or stops confirmations to prevent a possible loser in the election from packing courts. Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has complained Democrats have already started the slowdown.

But Hatch's spokeswoman, Margarita Tapia, said Tuesday, "Sen. Hatch is committed to taking action on all of the president's fine judicial nominees. Sen. Hatch has a very high opinion of Tom Griffith's legal abilities."

Improving Griffith's chance at confirmation is the fact that he worked closely with Democratic and Republican leaders alike when he was the Senate legal counsel, 1995-1999.

In that job, he represented the institution and its officers in civil litigation — including representing the Senate's interests in matters surrounding the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton.

Other recent nominees for the D.C. Circuit lacked such bipartisan ties — and ran into a buzz saw of opposition from Democrats.

For example, last year, Miguel Estrada — the first Hispanic ever nominated to that high court — withdrew after Democrats blocked his nomination for months. It was the first time any appeals court nominee had been filibustered on the Senate floor.

Democrats charged Estrada was too conservative to set aside personal feelings as a judge on such topics as abortion. But Hatch charged Democrats attacked Estrada to prevent Bush from gaining inroads with Hispanic voters.

And just last month, Democrats signaled they will try to block D.C. Circuit nominee Brett Kavanaugh, saying he is too partisan.

Kavanaugh helped litigate the Florida recount that made Bush president, was the White House aide who helped choose other controversial nominees, and even sued to stop the return of Cuban orphan Elian Gonzalez.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., even said, "Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the D.C. Circuit is not just a drop of salt in the partisan wounds, it's the whole shaker."

Besides his work at BYU and as the Senate legal counsel, Griffith is a former law partner in the Washington law firm of Wiley, Rein and Fielding. He also was legal counsel to the Rules Committee of the 2000 Republican National Convention.

He obtained a bachelor's degree from BYU in 1978 and earned his law degree in 1985 from the University of Virginia Law School, where he was editor of the Virginia Law Review.

He and his wife, Susan, are the parents of six children.


E-mail: leed@dgsys.com