U.S. Senate Republicans' maneuver may block Cape Elizabeth attorney's appointment to bench

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins last Friday urged bipartisan cooperation to ensure a U.S. Senate vote this year on the nomination of a Cape Elizabeth lawyer to the federal bench.

The nomination of William Kayatta Jr. to the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston is threatened by a blocking manuever used by minority parties in presidential election years.

Kayatta was nominated to replace Judge Kermit Lipez, a South Portland resident who is taking senior judicial status. Kayatta is a trial lawyer with Portland-based Pierce Atwood. His nomination to the nation’s second-highest court was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in the spring.

According to the Politico and Roll Call websites, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on June 13 said it is time to invoke what is known as the “Thurmond Rule,” which essentially delays Senate action on the appointment of federal judges in the six months prior to a presidential election.

Michael Brumas, who directs communication for the Senate Minority Office, said Monday that no decision on a blocking manuever had been made. “We haven’t announced anything on the Thurmond Rule issue at this point,” Brumas said.

Kayatta declined to discuss his nomination or the prospect of a confirmation delay.

The Senate action, named for the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina Democrat who became a Republican, is alternately called the “Leahy Rule,” in reference to Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy.

The practice calls for filibusters to prevent confirmation hearings and can be prevented if enough minority senators, in this case Republicans, vote with the majority to close a filibuster and move the nomination forward. Sixty votes are required to end a filibuster.

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins blamed the White House for Kayatta’s predicament, but also said the nominee deserves better treatment from the Senate.

“Last year, I repeatedly urged the White House to send Bill’s nomination to the Senate promptly,” Collins said. “Nevertheless, it simply isn’t fair that Bill, who would be a superb judge, now appears to be caught up in election-year politics. I have urged my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to give Bill the direct vote by the full Senate that he deserves.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, did not specifically say what actions she might take to further Kayatta’s nomination, but expressed continued support for him.

“Bill Kayatta is superbly qualified and would be an outstanding addition to the First Circuit Court of Appeals,” Snowe said in a prepared statement. “I have strongly supported his nomination from day one and will continue to work with the bipartisan Senate leadership in an effort bring his nomination to the floor.”

According to Roll Call, Republican Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa, John Thune of South Dakota and John Cornyn of Texas also support invoking the rule.

Using the rule would not yet block federal district court nominations, but would delay confirmation hearings for at least three other appointments already endorsed by the Juciary Committee and supported by Senate Democrats and Republicans.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Updated to include responses from Sens. Collins and Snowe, and from the Senate Minority Office.

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William Kayatta Jr.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.