Reid seeks to bypass Heller on federal judge nominee

WASHINGTON - The standoff between Nevada's U.S. senators over judicial nominee Elissa Cadish became more pronounced Wednesday when Sen. Harry Reid said he is seeking a way around opposition to place the Clark County district judge on the federal bench.

Reid said he planned to ask Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy to hold a confirmation hearing on Cadish, circumventing objections from fellow Nevada Sen. Dean Heller. Reid doubted, however, that Leahy would agree to his request.

"It's an emergency vacancy," Reid said in explaining his effort. "There has yet to be anyone I've heard who doesn't think she is qualified. I've picked somebody who I believe is the most qualified district judge we have in the state."

The development raises the stakes in the impasse between Nevada's senators on filling a vacancy on the federal bench in the state. Reid, a Democrat, is insistent on Cadish, while Heller, a Republican, has been insistent in opposing her after questions were raised about her position on gun rights.

Cadish was proposed by Reid and nominated by President Barack Obama in February to become a federal judge to succeed U.S. District Judge Philip Pro, who has taken senior status and a reduced workload. The Administrative Office of U.S. Courts classified the opening as a "judicial emergency" based on the district's heavy caseload.

Heller came out against Cadish and has declined to sign a "blue slip," the paperwork that home state senators customarily provide to the Senate Judiciary Committee authorizing the panel to schedule a hearing and advance the nomination.

Reid, the Senate majority leader, said he plans to ask Leahy to bypass the blue slip process in this case and move forward with the Cadish nomination. He said the two could meet today .

Reid directed his staff to compile news clippings on Cadish that he plans to show to Leahy. The state's major newspapers in Las Vegas and Reno have called for hearings on the nominee.

Reid acknowledged that the blue slip policy has been with the Senate for most of the past 50 years, and "Leahy is a traditionalist around here."

"I've gotten all the articles about this together and am going to visit with Pat and go over it, but I don't think he will agree to do it," he said.

Leahy never has bypassed the blue slip process in his six years as committee chairman, according to spokeswoman Erica Chabot. During that time, the committee considered more than 250 judicial candidates.

"Senator Leahy's long-standing policy as chairman is that he only proceeds with scheduling hearings on judicial nominations once both blue slips have been returned," Chabot said.

Heller was silent Wednesday. Stewart Bybee, his spokesman, said the decision on whether to allow a hearing "is the prerogative of the chairman" of the Judiciary Committee.

Carl Tobias, Williams Professor of Law at the University of Richmond, said Reid's stab at custom is a sign of how badly he wants Cadish as a judge.

But, he said, "I'm dubious that even Reid could move Leahy off this because I think Leahy feels strongly on principle. There's nothing in Leahy's history that leads me to think he would do it.

"I think it would be difficult to break (the Cadish nomination) loose unless Reid can prevail directly on Heller, and it sounds like (Heller) already has his back up and he is not going to move on it," said Tobias, who formerly taught at the Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

There have been a handful of examples in the past year where Leahy declined to schedule confirmation hearings on nominees after Republicans declined to return blue slips, Tobias said.

■ Arvo Mikkanen, nominated by Obama for a federal judgeship in February 2011 in the Northern District of Oklahoma, was opposed by Sens. James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both R-Okla., and did not get a hearing. His nomination was returned to the White House at the end of that year.

■ Natasha Perdew Silas, nominated in January 2011 to a judgeship in the Northern District of Georgia, did not get a hearing after Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Republicans, did not return blue slips. The impasse over Silas, who was the choice of Georgia Democrats, also sank Linda T. Walker, another nominee to that court district, who was favored by Republicans but was part of a package deal with Silas.

In another case cited by Tobias, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing in May on the nomination of Kansan Steve Six to become a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but Leahy declined to hold a confirmation vote after Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, both R-Kan., declared their opposition to Six after the session.

Cadish was rated "unanimously qualified" for the federal bench by the American Bar Association committee that reviews nominations. But her confirmation was thrown in the air last month after Republicans on the Judiciary Committee examined a Las Vegas citizens group questionnaire that she filled out in May 2008 while running for Clark County judge.

Asked in one question whether she believes individuals have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms, Cadish wrote: "I do not believe that there is this constitutional right. Thus, I believe that reasonable restrictions may be imposed on gun ownership in the interest of public safety. Of course, I will enforce the laws as they exist as a judge."

Cadish has sought to clarify her remark, saying she was not giving a personal opinion but rather was commenting on the state of law at the time. The Supreme Court issued rulings later in 2008 and in 2010 that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess firearms.

Cadish met with Heller on Friday in Las Vegas. The senator said afterward that he would continue to block her confirmation, saying he "cannot in good conscience support a nominee whose commitment to the Constitution's Second Amendment is in doubt."

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.