The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected for the first time a judicial nomination from President Bush on Thursday.
It came as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, accused Democrats - while often yelling, pounding the table and coming close to tears - of rejecting promotion of conservative Kenneth Ryskamp to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals only because they want to preserve a liberal majority there.But Democrats accused Ryskamp of insensitivity to civil rights because he belonged to a country club that allegedly was discriminatory and because of insensitive comments Ryskamp made to attorneys and said later he regretted.
Ryskamp was rejected on a straight party-line vote of 8-6. A second vote to send the nomination to the Senate floor without a recommendation died on a 7-7 tie. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., was the only Democrat who switched.
Ryskamp is already a trial-level judge in a federal district court in Miami and will continue there. The same committee approved his appointment to that court five years ago.
During debate, Hatch said rejecting Ryskamp now is one of the "truly great injustices," and said Ryskamp is "a decent, wonderful man. He's a beautiful man. He wouldn't discriminate."
Hatch also noted the nominee has given free legal help and volunteer service to a variety of Hispanic groups.
Hatch said Democrats and liberal groups opposed Ryskamp because he is a conservative and the 11th Circuit is "one of three courts in the country that has a liberal majority. That's not reason enough to do this to a man of this quality. It just isn't."
But Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said, "Judge Ryskamp does not deserve a seat on that great court" because he was often reversed on civil rights cases, had belonged to an allegedly discriminatory club and had made insensitive comments in civil-rights cases.
In one case - where two men alleged their civil rights were violated by police dogs that mauled them during arrest - Ryskamp told attorneys out of ear shot from the jury, "It might not be inappropriate to carry around a few scars to remind you of your wrongdoing in the past, assuming the person has done wrong."
Hatch said Ryskamp said he regretted such comments. Also, Ryskamp said his country club had women, Hispanic and Jewish members, and he resigned from it - at Hatch's suggestion - because of allegations that it discriminated against blacks.