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Nomination of J. Leon Holmes, of Arkansas, to be United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


NOMINATION OF J. LEON HOLMES, OF ARKANSAS, TO BE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, the Senate will now proceed to executive session to consider Calendar No. 165. The clerk will state the nomination.

The legislative clerk read the nomination of J. Leon Holmes, of Arkansas, to be United States District Judge for the Eastern
District of Arkansas.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. There will be 6 hours of debate equally divided.

The Senator from Arkansas is recognized.

Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, we find ourselves today considering the nomination of Leon Holmes for the Eastern District of Arkansas. I have known Mr. Holmes for a number of years. In fact, I used to practice law with him. Even though I count him as a friend, I have to go back to the criteria that I use when I consider any nomination for the Federal bench.

Basically, I have a four-part test that I apply. One: Is the nominee qualified? Two: Does the nominee have the necessary experience for the post? Three: Will the nominee, once he or she is on the bench, be fair and impartial? And the fourth criteria is more of a catchall: Are there other circumstances-maybe his or her temperament or maybe he or she has an agenda-is there something in their background that might prevent this person from serving?

Clearly, Leon Holmes is a qualified nominee. There is no doubt about that. Also, clearly he has the necessary experience to serve as a district judge in the Eastern District of Arkansas. Rightly so, people can ask and should ask: Can he be fair and impartial?

There is no question about the fact that Leon Holmes has been a strong advocate when it comes to the issue of life and choice. He is strongly on the pro-life side. He has been very clear about that point. For over two decades now, there is no question, there is no doubt about where Mr. Holmes stands on that important issue facing our Nation today.

Let's look at that issue and let's look at some statements he made and some things we have learned about Mr. Holmes during this nomination process.

First, let me say, I was attorney general in Arkansas for 4 years before I came to the Senate. As such, I can think, in 4 years of practice, of only one case of which I am aware that either my office or anybody else in the State of Arkansas handled relating to abortion and that was directly on point. The fact that he would be a judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas-we have two districts-probably would mean, given the number of Federal judges we have, given his age, it would be very unlikely for him to ever have an abortion case.

Second, even if he did have an abortion case, Mr. Holmes has represented every pro-life group in the State of Arkansas-I cannot speak to all of his clients, but he has represented them and has been very involved with them. So undoubtedly he would have a conflict if any of those cases ever came before him as a judge.

Mr. Holmes has a very deep conviction and a genuine passion about the issue of when life begins and whether this country should allow women the right to choose under any circumstance. It is a position that is based on much thought and much reason and even much prayer.

I can say this: After reviewing his record very thoroughly in the last year-by the way, this nomination has been pending in the Senate for over a year-he has made a number of inflammatory statements, and I thought what I would do is read through a few of those very briefly so my colleagues will understand what the controversy with Mr. Holmes is all about.

At one point, he wrote:

Concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with the same frequency as snow in Miami.

I could go through a series of statements he made. Let me read a couple more. He, in effect, compared the pro-choice movement to some things that were going on in Nazi Germany. I think that is a fair statement without trying to get into the long background and quote on that point.

Another item which has been controversial is that he wrote a piece for a Catholic newspaper in Arkansas. He also cowrote it with his wife. In this piece it says that a wife has the obligation to "subordinate herself to her husband" and "to place herself under the authority of the man." Here, again, this is a reflection of Catholic doctrine. It is a teaching that is found in the New Testament. It is something in which Mr. Holmes and his wife both participate. When we hear statements such as that, naturally questions are raised and people ask: Is this the kind of person we want on the Federal bench?

If we look at most of the statements he has made about abortion and other subjects, not every single one, but most are at least 15 years old. He has apologized during the course of this nomination process, and, for all I know, he has already apologized for this, but he has apologized on many occasions for some of the statements he has written and said.

In fact, if I can read some excerpts of the responses from his questionnaire he answered before the Judiciary Committee. I am not going to try to read all this because there are way too many of them and way too long. Let me take selected excerpts.

At one point he said:

The sentence about rape victims-

Which I just quoted-

which was made in a letter to the editor in 1980 is particularly troublesome to me from the distance of 23 years. Regardless of the merits of the issue, the articulation in that sentence reflects an insensitivity for which there is no excuse and for which I apologize.

He goes on to say in another paragraph:

Let me be clear that Roe v. Wade, as affirmed by Casey, is the law of the land. As a district judge, I would be bound to follow it and would do so.

In another response about when it comes time for him to consider whether he should recuse in cases, he said:

I would follow 28 U.S.C. 455 and the Code of Conduct for United States Judges when making recusal decisions.

He goes on to say in another paragraph:

Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. As a judge, I would be bound by oath to follow that law. I do not see how a judge could follow the law but restrict the rights established by the law.

In other words, he is committing over and over he is going to follow the law of the land.

Again, in answer to another question:

I recognize the binding force of the court's holding in Griswold and Eizenstat recognizing the right to privacy.

Once again, people can have a legitimate, genuine concern and can ask questions about this point, but time and again he answers his critics.

He says later:

Roe v. Wade establishes that the constitutional right to privacy includes a woman's right to have an abortion.

In another section he says:

I do not understand that the Court in Roe v. Wade contended that the decision there was mandated by strict construction as the term is defined above.

He is talking about this phrase in the question.

I recognize these decisions are, once again, the law of the land. They are binding precedent on all courts. If I am confirmed, I will do my utmost to follow these and all other precedents of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Then the last couple of excerpts I would like to read are these. Here again he is talking about Roe v. Wade:

As a judge, I would follow every decision of the Supreme Court that has not been subsequently overruled.

How many times does he have to say that? How many times does he have to say he is going to follow the law?

I know Leon personally. Lawyers in Arkansas have worked with him, and they know him personally. We have a high degree of confidence that he will follow the law.

Something that comes through over and over with Mr. Holmes is he has an incredibly strong reputation for high ethical standards.

In fact, as a demonstration of this, at one point during the process he met with Senator Lincoln and they talked about a number of issues. If we know Senator Lincoln, we know she asked a lot of hard questions and she expected clear and definitive answers, which she got.

At some point during the process, other things came to light he had not told Senator Lincoln about or that he felt, in fairness to her and out of respect for her, she should know about.

So on his own volition, without being prompted by anyone or anything, on April 11, 2003--this was over a year ago because this has been pending over a year-he voluntarily wrote Senator Lincoln a letter talking about some of these statements that had come out. He says in the 1980s he wrote letters to the editors in newspaper columns regarding the abortion issue using strident and harsh rhetoric. He goes on to say almost all of these are over 15 years old. He says, in a later paragraph:

As I stated in response to written questions from Senator Durbin, I am especially troubled by the sentence about rape victims in a 1980 letter to the editor regarding the proposed Human Life Amendment; and as I said there, regardless of the merits of the issue, the articulation of that sentence reflects an insensitivity for which there is no excuse and for which I apologize.......

Here again, he is talking about something he had written over 24 years ago. If we were to apply that same standard to us, if we could think back 24 years before we ever were in office or even 24 years ago for any of us, we would probably look back on some of our statements and not be real pleased with some of the things we said.

He goes on when he talks about a 1987 effort, when he was president of Arkansas Right to Life, and he says he asked a rhetorical question in the context of some columns and things that had been written and he mentioned Nazi Germany. One thing he says to Senator Leahy is: "I did not intend to say that supporters of abortion rights should be equated with Nazis," and he spends a whole paragraph talking about this, trying to clarify and give the context for what he had said.

He also in his letter to Senator Lincoln wrote about this article he had written in his church newspaper. He says that "the marital relationship symbolizes the relationship between Christ and the church." He stated:

......My wife and I believe that this teaching ennobles and dignifies marriage and both partners in it. We do not believe that this teaching demeans either the husband or the wife but that it elevates both. It involves a mutual self-giving and self-forgetting, a reciprocal gift of self. This teaching is not inconsistent with the equality of all persons, male and female......

Then he goes on to talk about that. So when we look back at these statements he made 17 years ago, 23 years ago, 24 years ago in one case, Leon Holmes, by his own words, comes to this conclusion in the last paragraph of his letter. He says:

Some of the criticisms directed at things I wrote years ago are just; some of them are not. I hope that my legal career as a whole, spanning the years 1982 through 2003, evidences that I am now ready to assume the responsibility of a United States District Court Judge. I certainly was not ready in 1980, nor for many years thereafter, and I do not claim that I was.......

In other words, he is admitting he had maybe crossed a line and there are some things he wished he had not said or wished he had said differently.

I will tell my colleagues about Leon Holmes. He is a very fine person. He is a very serious and very sincere Christian man. He is a husband, he is a father, and he is a lawyer. He is a man of very deep faith. In fact, his faith permeates every aspect of his life. I say that very sincerely because I know Leon. Some people might hear those words and say, listen, that means he has this rightwing agenda that when he gets on the bench he is going to do certain things and hold certain ways.

Well, Leon is much deeper than that. His agenda is justice. The hallmark that really distinguishes Leon from so many other people is integrity. He is a great example of integrity.

I have 23 letters. I promise I am not going to read them all. There are dozens more I could have brought with me. There is a saying in the Bible that if we do not testify about it the stones will cry out. Well, what we found in Arkansas is a swelling where the stones are crying out, except in this case they are not stones, they are people who have practiced with Leon and people who have practiced against Leon.

I have personally talked with dozens and dozens of lawyers in the State of Arkansas. I have asked them: Would Leon Holmes make a good Federal judge? In almost every single conversation, there is an unequivocal yes, he would be an outstanding Federal judge.

I will read some of these excerpts. Then I would like to turn this over to my colleague, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. One excerpt is from a Federal district judge, Bill Wilson. I actually asked him to write this letter because I asked him about whether he thought Leon Holmes could be fair and impartial. As part of the explanation, Judge Wilson says before Leon was nominated and chosen for the bench, he was "a New Deal, new frontier, great society Democrat, and unabashedly so." He goes on to talk about how Leon Holmes will have a detached objectivity, that he will set a standard all judges would be proud of. He concludes by saying:

I have seen Leon Holmes in action on several other occasions, and he is a top-flight lawyer with the nicest sense of personal honor. I believe this to be his reputation with almost all the legal profession in Arkansas.

That is my impression as well.

Here is a letter from Philip Anderson. Philip Anderson may not be a household name, but Philip Anderson is the former president of the American Bar Association. He writes this paragraph:

I practiced law with Mr. Holmes for many years until he withdrew from our firm two years ago. I believe that he is superbly qualified for the position for which he has been nominated. He is a scholar first, and he has had broad experience in Federal court. He is a person of rock-solid integrity and sterling character. He is compassionate and even-handed. He has an innate sense of fairness. He is temperamentally suited for the bench. He works with dispatch. In short, he has all of the qualities that one would hope to find in a Federal judge, and seldom are they found in a person so amiable and with his degree of genuine humility.

In fact, I know Philip Anderson is a Democrat and was his law partner for a number of years.

Here is another one. This one is from Kristine Baker of Little Rock. She is a lawyer. She goes out of her way to point out she is a Democrat. She says: I do not always see eye to eye but I respect him and trust his judgment. Above all, he is fair.

She talks about his respect and his dignity, his intellect, his demeanor, his temperament, and his ability.

Here we have another letter. This one is actually from Tulsa, OK. It is from a lawyer named Dana Baldwin who used to practice in Little Rock. She is a native Arkansan. She said:

Despite occasional differences in my and Mr. Holmes' views on social and political issues, I can speak highly of his integrity and compassion for the law.......

She talks about his impartiality. She talks about his commitment to follow the law.

This letter is from Robin Carroll, who is a lawyer down in El Dorado, AR.

Robin happens to be the legal counsel for the Democratic Party of Arkansas. He calls Mr. Holmes:

......a brilliant and ethical lawyer.

He would be a fair and impartial judge. He would be fair and impartial on every issue.

Bear in mind, Mr. Carroll and Mr. Holmes have done battle in the courtroom before on election issues, and other party-type issues.

Here is another one, Nate Coulter. Nate is a very fine lawyer from Little Rock. He has been on the statewide ballot twice as a Democrat. He says:

......I am writing to endorse enthusiastically Mr. Holmes' nomination to the federal district court.

He says his political views and party affiliations differ, but those:

......do not affect my very high regard for his character and professionalism.

He says they have been opposite each other in at least six lawsuits. Mr. Coulter talks about Mr. Holmes' intellectual fitness and integrity and once again, Nate has done battle with him in the courtroom.

Also now we have a letter from Beth Deere. She again goes out of her way to talk about how she is a Democrat and how they do disagree on a number of issues. But she talks about his bright legal mind. Once again, she mentions the word "integrity." That comes through over and over and over in these letters.

Margaret Dobson says:

I have met no man who respects women more.

She talks about the respect she has for Leon and Leon has for others. She says he is the partner who had most supported her career growth and her rise to the level of partner.

Here again she talks about Leon's political views and hers. They may disagree, but he is:

......fair and honest and diligent.

He has a commitment to follow the law. He has:

......impeccable morals, unquestionable ethics, and supreme intelligence.

She talks about how respected he is in the legal community in Arkansas.

Here is one from Stephen Engstrom, who is a lawyer in Little Rock. He says:

He is an outstanding lawyer and a man of excellent character.

Once again, he says:

Leon Holmes and I differ on political and personal issues such as pro-choice/anti-abortion. [In fact he says] I am a past board member of our local Planned Parenthood chapter.......

But he goes on to say:

......I am confident that Leon Holmes will do his duty as the law and facts of any given case require.

Here again, I am only reading short excerpts from a few of the letters we have received on Mr. Holmes.

Here is one from David Grace, who is a lawyer in Little Rock and practices in downtown. He has a very fine reputation. He says that he and I have had several cases. Some of these have been with him and some against him.

......Leon has a powerful mind and excellent judgment. He is able to be honestly objective.......

He goes on to say:

......he is among the very best and most respected lawyers in Arkansas.

Once again, he goes out of his way to say he disagrees strongly with some of Leon's political or social views, but they have not:

......affected his analysis of a legal problem or his performance as an attorney.

We have a law professor from the University of Arkansas Law School, where Leon was a student. This is Howard Brill. In fact, he was one of my law professors. He says:

I have no doubt that he is scrupulously fair and will be so on the bench-fair to all individuals, to all groups, to all political persuasions, to all viewpoints on the issues that divide Americans. In his judicial role and temperament, he is not a partisan.

Here is a letter from a lawyer, Field K. Wassen, Jr., who was Governor Bill Clinton's legal counsel. He says Leon Holmes has "unquestioned integrity."

Here is another one from a plaintiff's lawyer in the State. Her name is Eileen Woods Harrison. Her father was a Federal judge and she is a lifelong Democrat. In fact, at one point she was on the State Workers Compensation Commission and she was released from that post because she was considered to be too liberal on some of the issues. And lo and behold, who was hired to represent the State against her when she sued the State? Leon Holmes. She goes on in this letter to say, even though he was "on the other side," he:

......conducted himself in the most professional and ethical manner throughout my case. I gained a great respect for him throughout the course of the litigation.

This isn't a lawyer who is on the other side, this is a litigant. This is a party and he is the lawyer for the other side. In fact, she closes with a Bible verse and says:

"Let Justice run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." It is my firm belief that Mr. Holmes is a just and righteous man who deserves the appointment to the Federal Bench.

Here is one from Bradley Jesson, from Fort Smith, a very fine lawyer who was for a short time Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court and a Democrat. He says:

My opinion is this is one of the best judicial selections that President Bush has made.

He says he has been with Leon in a number of cases.

In some we are on the same side. In others we are on opposing sides. ..... [He's] one of the best prepared lawyers around and most courteous and most professional. ..... His legal work is among the very best I observed. ..... Leon and I frankly disagree about some issues......

But Brad Jesson is convinced Leon will follow the law.

Here is one from Jack Lavey. He is a great lawyer in the State of Arkansas. In fact, he is one of the founding members of the State chapter of the ACLU. He calls himself, in this letter, a liberal Democrat. He talks about Leon Holmes and he says:

......his professional reputation is outstanding. He is very bright ..... and he's a very ethical lawyer. He is very honest.

.... he has always been very professional and very ethical.

He says he is honest and fair. He says also he will follow the law. He says:

If a Roe v. Wade issue comes before Mr. Holmes, if he is appointed as a federal district court judge, he will follow the Supreme Court's decision in that case. If I thought otherwise, I would not be writing this letter to you.

He goes on to talk about him and uses words like "fairly," "honestly," "ethically," "in accordance with established law."

He says:

To conclude, I consider it a privilege to highly recommend to the United States Senate the appointment of Mr. Holmes as a federal district judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

Here is one from Sandy McMath. He uses words like "integrity," "compassion," "scholarship." He says:

..... he's an honorable and upright lawyer.

He goes on to say they have opposed each other vigorously in a case involving ERISA, but he was at all times compassionate toward the other side's client. He treated the other client with tremendous respect.

Once again, Sandy McMath, like most of these others, talks about how they are on opposite sides of the political fence, but he is confident Leon Holmes will make a good judge.

Also, here is one from Elizabeth Murray. She is with the largest law firm in Arkansas, does a lot of defense work, probably insurance defense work mostly, and corporate law work. She talks about his intelligence, his integrity, and his respect for the law. She says she does not share his opinions on a variety of issues, but nonetheless she thinks he would be a good Federal judge.

Jeff Rosenzweig offers his "wholehearted support." He is a criminal defense lawyer. He calls himself a libertarian Democrat. I am not even sure exactly what that is, but that probably does sum up his political views. But he says:

He's a person of the highest character, intelligence and judgment. He's been an outstanding advocate and if confirmed will be an outstanding judge. If there is any person in the world who will apply the law without regard to what his personal beliefs might be, that person is Leon Holmes.

Time and time and time again we see that. Here is a letter from Charles Schlumberger, a great lawyer in Little Rock and a good friend of mine. He says:

I am a Democrat, I am pro-choice, and I support gender equality.

He goes on to say:

If ever there was an individual fully qualified to serve on the federal bench, it is Mr. Holmes.

He goes on to say:

I am confident that Mr. Holmes will uphold his duty as jurist to follow the rule of law, without bias or deference to his personal convictions.

We hear from a lawyer who now lives in Naples, FL, but used to practice in Little Rock, Jeanne Seewald. She gives her wholehearted endorsement. She talks about how respectful, courteous, and supportive he was of her personally at their old law firm when they practiced together. She says Leon is a gentleman and a scholar.

He has been a faithful mentor over the years. His ethics are beyond reproach.

She talks about his thoughtful and brilliant analysis of issues.

I could read a couple of paragraphs out of that letter because she says so many glowing things about him.

Here is one from Steven Shults who is, again, a lawyer in Little Rock-a very fine lawyer with a great reputation. He talks about how they have been on opposite sides of many lawsuits, but "Mr. Holmes is one of the finest lawyers in Arkansas and a premier appellate advocate."

He talks about his integrity. There is that word again, "integrity." It comes through time and time again.

He talks about his "integrity, judgment, courage, compassion, intellect, dedication, patience, and intellectual honesty."

Here again, Steven Shults is on the other side of some of these issues, but, nonetheless, he thinks he would be a very good judge.

Here is one from Luther Sutter, who is a civil rights lawyer in Arkansas. In fact, he may have the largest civil rights practice in the State. I am not sure, but he is definitely among the largest. He talks about Leon Holmes being the consummate professional. He says:

I assure you that in my eight years of practice, I have learned to identify ideologues who are also lawyers. Such lawyers routinely put their personal and philosophical interests ahead of what I consider to be their clients' best interests. Mr. Holmes never did that.

He goes on to say:

I recommend Leon Holmes to the Federal bench, with a full understanding of his politics. Personally, I do not agree with some of his political views.

He goes on to talk about how he heartily recommends Leon Holmes.

This is the last letter I will read. I promise because I know I am trying the patience of everyone in the Chamber right now.
But this is a letter that the majority leader referred to a few moments ago from Kent Rubens who is a very good lawyer from West Memphis, AK, which is right across the Mississippi River from Memphis, TN. Kent Rubens has been a pillar of that legal community in this part of the State for a long, long time. He says:

I cannot think of anyone who is better qualified legally or ethically to so serve.

He uses a funny phrase that I have heard in Arkansas a few times. He says, "I will shoot dice with him over the telephone."

He talks about his honesty and how much integrity he has.

Let me give one little bit of background. He goes on in this letter to say:

I was privileged to represent a litigant who struck down the abortion statutes here in Arkansas after Roe and Doe were decided. There is no one who will argue that my views are anything other than pro-choice.

This is the lawyer who actually litigated the cases in Arkansas right after Roe v. Wade and decided to strike down Arkansas' laws on abortion. He is unabashedly pro-choice, and he is unabashedly in support of Leon Holmes for this position.

He says in conclusion:

As someone who has represented the pro-choice view and holds the pro-choice view, I ask that you urge your Members to support his confirmation.

I have read these letters and I think I have tried everyone's patience. But I will tell you this: From the people who know him best, from the people who practice with him and practice against him, from the people who have seen him up close and know him and have had personal contacts and personal interactions and years of affiliation with him in one way or another, they wholeheartedly endorse him to be on the Federal bench.

Going back to my criteria, is he qualified? Yes. There is no doubt about it. Does he have the necessary experience? Yes, no question. You can look at his resume. It is not even close. He easily has the experience you want to see. Will he be fair and impartial? Is there anything else in his background that might raise questions such as his temperament? Does he have an agenda? Clearly, from his contemporaries and from his peers, the answer is yes to those questions.

He has the attitude of being fair and impartial, and there is nothing in his background-no circumstance, even though he has been a staunch advocate on the pro-life side, he still has the respect and the veneration of his peers in Arkansas and even around the country from other States.

I ask all of my colleagues to give him strong consideration, to wade through some of the rhetoric and look back on this with the perspective that most of these inflammatory things were written at least 10 years ago, and some as long ago as 24 years ago.

I appreciate his conviction on the issue of abortion. I appreciate his compassion and his moral certitude on that question.

In many cases, people do not always agree with Leon but they have a lot of respect for him. They think he would be a good judge in Arkansas. They would be proud to have him on the Federal bench.

With that, I yield the floor and turn this over to my wonderful colleague from Utah.

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